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Table of Contents
- 1-Page Summary of Fever 1793
- Full Summary of Fever 1793
- Overall Summary
- Chapter 1
- Chapter 2
- Chapter 3
- Chapter 4
- Chapter 5
- Chapter 6
- Chapter 7
- Chapter 8
- Chapter 9
- Chapter 10
- Chapter 11
- Chapter 12
- Chapter 13
- Chapter 14
- Chapter 15
- Chapter 16
- Chapter 17
- Chapter 18
- Chapter 19
- Chapter 20
- Chapter 21
- Chapter 22
- Chapter 23
- Chapter 24
- Chapter 25
- Chapter 26
- Chapter 27
- Chapter 28
- Chapter 29
1-Page Summary of Fever 1793
Fever 1793 is a historical fiction novel set in Philadelphia during the yellow fever outbreak. The author, Laurie Halse Anderson, won an award for her contribution to young adult literature with this book. Fever 1793 was also named one of the best books for teens by the American Library Association and New York Public Library.
Fever 1793 begins with 14-year-old Matilda Cook, who is helping her mother and the cook run their family coffeehouse. Her grandfather was a captain in the Revolutionary War and helps Matilda deal with her demanding mother. Eliza is a widow who helps out at the coffeehouse, but Mother doesn’t like that she’s black. Matilda also spends time with Nathaniel Benson, an apprentice painter.
Matilda’s normal day suddenly changes when her friend Polly dies. She is also afraid that the yellow fever will spread to Philadelphia and kill everyone there. When Matilda’s mother gets sick, she asks to stay with her but has to leave town for a while.
Grandfather and Matilda travel with a farmer, but when Grandfather is ill and the guards of a neighboring town won’t let them pass through, the farmer throws them off his wagon without their belongings. Matilda must care for her sick grandfather and find food. She uses military tactics that she has learned throughout her life to frame this challenge as a battle. However, Matilda falls ill and collapses.
Matilda is having yellow fever and has been admitted to Bush Hill hospital. Stephen Girard, a wealthy French merchant, took over the hospital and staffed it with French doctors who disagree with American physicians’ treatment of bloodletting and purges for fevers. Grandfather visits Matilda in the hospital, but he was never sick; he just had yellow fever.
Matilda recovers from her illness and returns to Philadelphia with the orphans. Mrs. Bowles asks Matilda to stay in Philadelphia, but she declines because she wants to be with her grandfather again. They find that although many people are still alive, most of the city is abandoned or dead. The coffeehouse has been ransacked by thieves, and Mother and Eliza have disappeared. Grandfather gets sick again, so they struggle to get food for him from their garden.
One night, Matilda hears thieves break into her home. She attempts to scare them off by making noise. However, she accidentally reveals herself when one of the robbers almost cuts her with Grandfather’s sword. Hearing the commotion, Grandfather grabs his gun and shoots at the thief but misses him completely. The thief attacks Grandfather and kills him while telling Matilda that he loves her before running away. Distraught over losing someone so important to her, Matilda spends the rest of the night crying beside Grandfather’s body.
Matilda buries her grandfather and meets a young girl whose mother died of fever. She also sees Eliza tending to the sick, so she decides to follow her. Matilda stays with Joseph and helps Mother Smith tend to the sick. They decide that Nell should go live in an orphanage, but Matilda is relieved when she finds out that it’s overcrowded because this means they can keep Nell at their house instead.
Matilda accompanies Eliza on her charity missions, witnessing both the devastation and good work of people. Joseph’s twins fall ill with fever and Matilda becomes exhausted caring for them but she eventually recovers. Farmers return to Philadelphia with much-needed food, ending the famine that was taking place there.
Matilda searches for an update on her mother but finds Nathaniel. The Peale family stayed in the mansion and didn’t get sick from the fever like everyone else, and Matilda starts to rebuild her friendship with him while they work together. They agree to be together later, so it involves Eliza as a business partner too. She turns the coffeehouse into a raging success again (like when she was little), whereas Mother’s weak from battling the illness so allows Mother to rest instead while fighting off Hannah Woodcock because of that whole thing before with Randolph Plumley.
The book ends with Matilda doing the same thing she did in the beginning of the novel. She’s become more mature and is ready to start her day, knowing that each task will bring her closer to becoming a successful businesswoman. While she still misses Grandfather and Polly, Matilda looks forward to a bright future instead of wallowing in sadness. The sun rises as it always does on this new day, “filled with prayers and hopes and promise,” signaling another chance for success.
Full Summary of Fever 1793
In August of 1793, 14-year-old Matilda “Mattie” Cook is awakened by her mother, Lucille Cook. She’s late for work at the coffeehouse because their serving girl Polly has died from a fever. Mattie reluctantly gets up and helps out in the coffeehouse with her friend Eliza, who feeds her breakfast before sending her outside to tend to the garden. While she’s working in the garden she daydreams about running businesses someday and meeting Nathaniel Benson, who she likes. But then Mother interrupts again to tell Mattie that Polly has died suddenly of a fever.
Mattie takes over Polly’s duties in the coffeehouse, hearing her beloved Grandfather debate with customers about rumors of a yellow fever outbreak in the city. A couple of weeks later, many have died from the fever, but Grandfather argues that it’s nothing to be concerned about. One day, a neighborhood aristocrat invites Mattie and Lucille to tea. Mattie hates Pernilla’s snobby daughters Colette and Jeannine, and doesn’t share Lucille’s desire that she marry an Ogilvie son because they’re snobs who don’t appreciate her love for books or her passion for social justice work at the Cook Coffeehouse. However, she reluctantly goes along when Lucille insists that it’ll be good for business if she meets wealthy men like them. Just as Jeannine is picking a fight by insulting the Cook Coffeehouse while Colette collapses from yellow fever right next to them…
People in Philadelphia are starting to get sick because of the fever. Many people leave the city, including President Washington and other important politicians. Mattie’s grandfather continues to believe that there is nothing to worry about, but one day he sees Lucille being dropped off at their coffeehouse—she looks very sick.
A girl named Mattie spends the night with her sick mother. The mother begs her to leave so that she won’t get sick, but Mattie refuses and instead stays there to take care of her mom. She regrets their past arguments and feels like she has failed in taking after her strong-willed mother. The next day, a doctor diagnoses Lucille with yellow fever and bleeds her as a remedy. Grandfather agrees that he and Mattie should flee to the country while Eliza stays behind to take care of Lucille. They hitch a ride with a farmer who offers them food for the journey. When they are just 10 miles outside of Philadelphia, however, their wagon is stopped by guards who tell them that people from outlying towns aren’t allowed through because there’s an outbreak of yellow fever nearby. Because it looks suspicious for him to cough, Grandfather isn’t allowed through either. He decides that he’ll stay behind while Mattie goes on ahead without him.
When Mattie realizes that her grandfather is sick, she does her best to help him. She remembers how to find water and berries so they can survive. When she goes looking for food at neighboring farms, however, she gets lost and becomes ill herself. Later on, the nurse tells her that Grandfather brought her to Bush Hill Hospital where French doctors are better equipped than American ones with yellow fever knowledge.
Mattie recovers from her illness and decides to go home with Grandfather. When they get there, they find Philadelphia in a state of panic. The streets are filled with corpses, businesses have been abandoned, and thieves are taking advantage of the situation by preying on the vulnerable. Even their coffeehouse has been broken into, so Mattie urges Grandfather to rest while she cobbles together meals for them from what’s left of their garden. It’s too dangerous to venture into the city in search of food because it would be too risky and she doesn’t want him to overexert himself due his frail health.
Mattie is awakened by two men breaking into the house. They restrain her and attack Grandfather, who fights back with his rifle. Mattie grabs a sword from the wall and wounds one of them before they flee. When she returns to the room, she finds that Grandfather has died after being attacked brutally by one of the burglars. She feels completely alone now that everyone in her family is gone.
The next morning, a man passes the house with a cart of dead bodies and takes Grandfather’s body to the city’s burial ground. Mattie helps him carry his corpse but refuses to let it be thrown into a common grave without ceremony. She leads the gravediggers in reciting Psalms before she wanders around Philadelphia aimlessly until she finds an orphan who needs help. Someone tells her that there are volunteers at Free African Society who can take care of Nell, so they go there and find Eliza taking care of fever victims all over Philadelphia.
Eliza assures Mattie that Lucille survived the fever and went to the country in search of her. Eliza takes Mattie home to Joseph’s house, where she cares for his children while looking after Nell too. She takes Nell to an orphanage but soon brings her back home because there are so many sick children there.
One night, Mattie and Eliza come home to find Joseph weeping over the twins and Nell, who have all fallen ill with fever. Mattie takes charge because she’s more experienced than her husband at treating illness. She decides to move the children into the coffeehouse where there is cooler air. The change in environment helps them get better faster, so they’re able to return home sooner than expected.
As life returns to normal, Mattie spends more time with Nathaniel Benson and reaches an understanding with him. She also invites Eliza to share the coffeehouse business with her, and the twins and Nell move in for good. The reopened coffeehouse quickly thrives, but Mattie feels empty without Mother.
When George Washington returns to Philadelphia, he is followed by those who fled the city. Among these are Mrs. Ludington and Lucille. They reunite tearfully after Mattie’s mother fell ill while searching for her daughter in the countryside. She was told to take it easy from now on because of her illness but will be okay.
Several weeks later, Mattie wakes up before anyone else in the coffeehouse. She lets her mother sleep and prepares the place for another day of work. While she is thinking about the epidemic, she remembers those who have died from it. However, she still looks forward to a hopeful future.
Mattie Cook wakes up to the sound of a mosquito in one ear and her mother screaming at her from the other. Her mother opens the shutters in Mattie’s room, which is above their coffee shop. She tells Mattie to get out of bed because Polly, their servant, is late and there are many things that need to be done.
Mattie is about to go to work, but she thinks it’s going to be a hot day. She hears her mother talking about how hard the job was when she used to do it. Mattie knows that her mother says that she was perfect and unlike Mattie. It’s too early for Mattie, so she wants to get back in bed and float away like Blanchard’s giant balloon. However, a mosquito bites her on the forehead, which wakes her up quickly and makes her hit her head on the low ceiling of the room.
Mattie picks up a dead mouse that her cat, Silas, has just killed. She then looks out the window and sees Congress meeting at the State House. On a clear day she can see all of Philadelphia’s waterfront, which is her favorite part of the city.
A few blocks south of the house is where Mattie had seen Blanchard fly his balloon earlier that year. She wants to escape like he did, and someday she hopes to get away from her mother’s control. Nathaniel understands how she feels because he likes drawing at the docks later on in the day.
As soon as Mattie enters the kitchen, her mother starts lecturing her about oversleeping. Mattie tries to ignore it and sits down in a spacious room that is their family’s business—the Cook Coffeehouse. There are just four people who run the coffeehouse: herself, her mother, grandfather, and an employee named Eliza. Her father built this home after the Revolutionary War ended when Mattie was only four years old. Now that President Washington lives two blocks away from them they get more customers than ever before.
Mattie’s father died when the coffeehouse opened, and her grandfather joined them. It was considered a respectable business for a widow to run. Mother didn’t serve alcohol but allowed card-playing and gambling as long as it wasn’t in front of her. Gentlemen, merchants, and politicians frequented the place every day to enjoy coffee or sweets. Mattie wondered what her father would have thought about their success if he were alive today.
Eliza interrupts to offer Mattie breakfast; she’s always hungry. Eliza makes great food, which is a key reason why the coffeehouse is so successful. If it weren’t for that, the Cooks would be in trouble: Mother ran away with her husband when she was 17 and was disowned by her family because of that.
Most black people in Philadelphia are free. This is partly because of the Quaker influence. Mattie sees that black people are treated differently than white people, although Eliza had been born a slave in Virginia and moved to Philadelphia so she could earn money to purchase her husband’s freedom after they were married. When Mattie was eight years old, Eliza learned that her husband had been killed by a runaway horse.
Both Eliza and Lucille are sad, but they’re different. Eliza is good at telling stories and keeping secrets. She gives Mattie a bowl of oatmeal with a hidden lump of sugar today.
Mattie asks why Polly is late. She speculates that Polly might be sick, because there’s a rumor of sickness near the river. Mother says that “serving girls don’t get sick” and storms off to search for Polly, ordering Mattie to tend the garden in her absence. First, though, Eliza gives Mattie more food. Mattie lingers in the kitchen until Eliza shoos her outside and calls her “little Mattie,” which she resents.
The garden outside is looking rather sad and dry. Mattie, while thinking about her future, waters the garden. She dreams of traveling to France one day and bringing back fabrics and jewelry that she can sell in a store. Her dream is to own an entire city block someday—a dry goods store, a restaurant, and an apothecary (pharmacy). Her grandfather tells her she’s “a Daughter of Liberty,” which means she’s like a real American girl who will be able to do whatever she wants with her life. To Mattie’s annoyance, however, when watering the garden by hand instead of using automated sprinklers or hoses, she accidentally watered some weeds instead of potatoes.
Mother comes home. She tells Mattie that she spoke with Polly’s mother, Mistress Logan. Mistress Logan kept repeating “Polly sewed by candlelight after dinner.” Then Polly collapsed and died from overworking herself. This shocks Mattie so much that she drops the bucket of water in her hands.
Mattie is shocked to hear that Polly has died. She remembers playing with her when they were younger and singing songs while churning butter. Mattie tells Mother what happened, but Mother says it’s strange that a healthy girl like Polly would die so quickly. They can be grateful she didn’t suffer long, though. She checks on Mattie and worries about the heat being bad for her health, since she feels feverish
When Mattie wants to take food to the Logans and attend Polly’s funeral, Mother refuses. Mattie calls her mother “cruel” and Mother demands an apology. Mattie notices how tired and bitter her mother looks, remembering when she was laughing and kind. But now she is a harsh captain whom Mattie must obey. She apologizes for calling her cruel.
One afternoon, the coffeehouse is filled with customers. Mattie’s mother won’t look at her because she has been working as a waitress. Her grandfather calls her over and he’s sitting beneath King George, his green parrot. Captain William Farnsworth Cook fought in the American Revolution and was trained by General Washington himself. He tried to give Mattie military training but always sweetened it with candy.
The author describes a scene where an old man named Mr. Carris meets with two government officials and a lawyer, Mattie. The men are joking around when they call her “little Mattie.” She is embarrassed by this nickname but the men continue to tease her about finding someone for her to marry. They then begin talking about the noxious fumes in the waterfront district of New Orleans and how it killed Polly, one of their neighbors. Another customer comes into the shop and he begins talking about how people from Santo Domingo were bringing over yellow fever. A doctor disagrees with him because his friend just died from yellow fever himself after being exposed near the wharf area in New Orleans.
Some people don’t like the doctor’s warnings, but he points out that some families have already decided to move to better air. The grandfather changes the subject and everyone starts talking about Thomas Jefferson. Mattie goes back to serving and cleaning, then helps do the accounts for her family. She feels tired after all of this work, because Polly did so much every day!
A week later, 64 people have died in Philadelphia. No one is sure of the cause, but Mattie is too busy cleaning and serving coffee to mourn her sister. One day, Grandfather convinces Mother to let Mattie run errands at the market because they can’t live their lives around a fever. Mother gives strict instructions not to wander off or loiter in front of the Peale house.
Mattie is walking through a market, enjoying the sights and sounds. She’s not paying attention to what she’s supposed to get at the market for her mother. She talks with some German farmers, who are shaped like eggs and flutter around. Mrs. Epler tells Mattie that God sent the fever so people would go to church more often because it will keep them healthy. Mattie buys some eggs from them and moves on to buy cabbages, lemons, and apples as well.
Mattie is walking through the market when someone suddenly grabs her basket. She turns around and sees Nathaniel Benson, a boy who works as an apprentice at the Peale’s house. Mattie can’t help but admire him because he looks more like a man than a boy. He also walks by their coffee shop sometimes, so she knows that he likes to spend time there. Mother doesn’t think much of him though; whenever Nathaniel passes by, Mother tells Mattie not to look at him because he’ll never amount to anything in life. They both watched the balloon together earlier this year too (in Chapter 1).
Mattie tries to be prim and proper, but she’s not sure what to make of Nathaniel’s smile. She figures as long as she acts like a lady while fishing, everything will be fine.
The bell of Christ Church is tolling. The butcher tells Nathaniel that the tolls mean a person has died from fever, and it rings once for each year they lived. He counts 21 tolls, which means someone who was 21 years old has died. They talk about Polly, and Mattie starts crying. Nathaniel comforts her by putting his hand on her shoulder as she leaves the shop. She feels like a ninny for saying good luck with your paints when he’s trying to find out if Polly is dead or alive.
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A week later, the heat is still relentless. Mattie washes clothes and wishes for frost. Grandfather prefers the warmth, saying that he’s old and his bones ache in cold weather. When Mattie recalls skating with the Peales last winter, Grandfather mentions rumors of Nathaniel’s “improper” behavior toward her in the market. Mattie protests that Nathaniel was a gentleman. Grandfather grumbles about how Nathaniel won’t amount to much as a painter’s apprentice because he doesn’t have any ambition or drive like his brother does (who has already been accepted into Harvard College).
Mattie refuses to talk about Nathaniel and agrees with her grandfather that he’s just an errand boy for Lucille. He says it would be better if he faced the British than Lucille. They watch as Mattie’s cat, Silas, chases a squirrel and jumps onto her clean laundry, causing the clotheshorse to collapse. Eliza and Grandfather laugh at this scene.
Mattie washes the linens, and then it’s time for lunch. Her grandfather is talking about how their business is booming because of the fever outbreak. He wants to open a regular store, but Mattie thinks they should expand into another lot and turn that property into a meeting room with paintings from France.
Mother and Grandfather argue about expansion. Mother believes that talk of expansion is useless because it’s only fear of the fever driving customers to their business. Grandfather says that this happens every year, but he thinks it’s because of “those cursed refugees” from Barbados. Mother doesn’t agree with him; she thinks the fever will pass soon and they can return to normal profits. Mattie silently agrees with Grandfather, wondering how much Watson would sell his land for if he asked him.
An unexpected visitor arrives. The grandfather brings a message from Pernilla Ogilvie, who has invited them to afternoon tea. Mother quickly snatches the note and tells everyone that this is good news. Mattie doesn’t want to go because she thinks the Ogilvies are snobs and she won’t like their son Edward, whom Mother wants her to marry. Grandfather persuades Mattie by talking about how much work they’ll get done if they don’t have to see Lucille for a few hours and by promising that there will be pastries at the party.
A mother pulls out a dress that is old-fashioned and from the past. She then lets out some seams on her daughter’s only fancy dress so it will fit her better. The girl whimpers and mopes because she can’t wear the new style dresses, but her mother says that if she wants to have a good marriage someday, she needs to be more ladylike. When Eliza helps put on Mattie’s clothes, Mattie sees spots in front of her eyes and feels like she can’t breathe with all these layers of clothing on. Her grandfather tells her that she looks just like a china doll; Mattie retorts by saying “I’ll break just as easily.”
When Mattie and her mother arrive at the Ogilvie mansion, Mattie is gasping for breath because of her tight clothes. As Mother straightens Mattie’s bodice and cleans dirt off her face, she promises they won’t stay long. She tells Mattie that she might become a beauty after all (which was not something she thought before), and that she just wants the best for her daughter.
A maid lets them into a large, expensively decorated house. The woman who greets them is dressed better than they are and calls Lucille by her first name. She also refers to Mattie as “poor little Matilda,” which annoys Mother.
Colette and Jeannine Ogilvie, dressed in the same gowns as each other, enter the room. Colette looks pale and drained while her sister is glowing with a smile on her face. Mrs. Ogilvie continues to talk about French lessons. Mattie struggles to reach for the plate of cakes without revealing too much of herself through her tight dress while Jeannine purposefully passes by it so that she won’t have to take one cake from the plate either out of utter disgust or an attempt to make fun of her mother’s friend who asked them over for tea today (maybe both).
Mrs. Ogilvie is talking about the large number of people who have left Philadelphia because they’re afraid of the fever that’s spreading through the city, but she doesn’t seem to be worried. She thinks it’s wrong for refugees and “hovel-dwellers” by the river to cause her ball to be canceled, though Jeannine sticks out her tongue at Mattie and their dog bites Mattie’s shoe.
Mattie is embarrassed when her mother asks if the Ogilvie sons are still in town. She thinks that it would be better to have a sign around her neck than to let everyone know what she’s thinking about. When the conversation turns to Colette’s recent engagement, Mattie complains about the heat and Jeannine eating cake slowly, which makes Mattie want to hit or shake her dog.
Lucille tries to convince Mrs. Ogilvie that one of her sons is a good match for Mattie. However, Mrs. Ogilvie dismisses this idea because she thinks they are above working at a tavern like the Cooks’. Jeannine then gets upset and calls their business filthy, which angers Lucille as well and causes them both to stand up for themselves when it comes to defending their family’s honor against the insults being thrown around.
During the confrontation, Colette gets up and starts panting heavily. She then upsets a pitcher of cream before fainting. Her mother feels her forehead, saying that it must be from a fever.
When Colette Ogilvie collapsed, Philadelphia became morbid. The bells tolled without stopping and a cannon was fired to purify the air because many families were leaving town for safety. Business declined at the coffeehouse because customers who stayed in town weren’t spending as much money on luxury items—like fancy coffees—that would help support local businesses. People had a lack of gumption, according to Eliza’s grandfather (he used that word!) except Mattie and his grandfather, but they were less worried about how others perceived them instead of outward appearances like those oblivious “snakes”, as Grandfather referred to them.
Grandfather and Mattie go to Andrew Brown’s print shop. Grandfather complains that he didn’t run from the redcoats, so he won’t run from a dockside miasma. Mr. Carris is also there and warns them of caution because of the College of Physicians’ advice for people to avoid sick people, mark their homes, bury their dead, and keep clean among other things. The bell tolls must stop as well.
Many people have died of the fever. Even Mr. Carris, who is a friend of Grandfather’s, believes that many people will die from it by the end of the year. People are already saying that even Washington and Jefferson might leave town because they don’t want to get sick with this disease. Mattie thinks she would rather work on her friend’s pig farm than get sick herself during the summer months when there are so many mosquitoes around and when there isn’t much food at home for her family to eat anyway since everyone has been working extra hard all summer long in order to make enough money for their winter supplies.
Grandfather and Mattie are walking home from the print shop when they pass a man pushing a cart. He has no arms or legs, but he’s still moving forward. Grandfather tells him that there is nothing for the dead here. Suddenly, Mattie runs ahead of her grandfather and stops in front of the man. She screams that it’s her mother!
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Lucille is alive. Grandfather tells Eliza to help him carry Lucille into the coffeehouse, where she’s overcome by heat. Mattie helps her mother get settled in bed and they talk about what happened with Dr. Larch.
The afternoon is disastrous, with leaking coffee and burned biscuits. At the end of the day, Grandfather brings in a doctor named Mr. Rowley to see Mattie. The reverend at the Free African Society told them that all real doctors are working near the waterfront where bodies are piling up like firewood (from yellow fever).
A man named Mr. Rowley comes to visit the house and examines Mother, who is still asleep. He says he knows a lot about female complaints (diseases), but Mattie thinks that he looks dirty and smells of rum. However, Grandfather insists that they listen to what he has to say because he’s experienced in treating such diseases. After examining Mother, Mr. Rowley announces that her disease is not yellow fever; it’s “the pestilence” or an epidemic-like illness sweeping Philadelphia at the time of this story. Famous doctors like Dr Rush are saying otherwise though, so Mr. Rowley doesn’t diagnose anyone with yellow fever without being certain first
Mattie doesn’t want to help Eliza give Mother a bath. It feels wrong and makes no sense, but it’s necessary. Every four hours, they have to wake Lucille and drag her into a hot bath. She cries out for Mattie’s father while she shivers in bed until her teeth chatter. That night, Grandfather sleeps at Mr. Carris’ house so that he won’t be alone with the body of his dead wife all night long. He kisses Mattie before leaving and promises to try to bring a doctor in the morning so that he can get some sleep without worrying about Lucille dying from pneumonia or something else horrible happening because there is nobody around who can take care of her except him and Eliza (who has gone home).
Mattie locks herself in the house, wondering whether her mother has ever enjoyed anything. She thinks that death would be a release for her, and she tries to control her tears as she listens to Lucille moan in her sleep. Mattie reflects on all the things Mother tried to teach her but that she didn’t listen to.
Mattie prays some Psalms for her mother’s deliverance, and then she falls asleep next to the bed. The next thing she knows, Mother is violently vomiting blood with her eyes rolled back in her head. Mattie jumps up screaming for Eliza but finds herself alone. She forces herself to soothe Mother and sponge her face clean of blood. Mother vomits again and weakly begs Mattie to leave her alone, which makes Mattie cry even more because she wants to help but can’t do anything else except clean the sheets on the bed that are covered in vomit from earlier when Lucille was throwing up before going into a feverish sleep.
The next morning, Eliza wakes Mattie up and brings her a Scottish doctor to examine Mother. After examining Lucille, the doctor says that Rowley is an “imposter” and a “damned fool.” He also notes that Lucille has yellow fever. Mattie can’t believe it because she knows her mother would never allow herself to get sick. She thinks of how hard her mother worked to keep them healthy when they were growing up.
Dr. Kerr says Lucille needs to be bled because that’s the only way she can survive yellow fever; Dr. Rush has proven this is true through his studies and experimentation. Mattie feels faint as she holds the basin, but she knows it’s necessary for her sister’s survival. They take 10 ounces of blood from her body, and then they give her jalap and calomel to help purge out whatever poison is in her system.
Lucille wakes up and sees Mattie. She points at her and tells her to leave, before beginning to cough. Dr. Kerr leads Mattie downstairs, assuring her that Lucille is a strong woman. He says they must send Mattie away because the city is turning mad, but Grandfather tells him that she can stay with them for a while longer. Trying to smile, he says it will be an adventure for both of them.
Despite Mattie’s protests, Grandfather leaves to find a coach. Eliza is also resolute as she starts packing food for their journey. She hands Mattie a package that has been left for her by Nathaniel Benson, who explains that Master Peale (a famous painter) and his family are inside the house until the sickness passes. He promises they will watch balloons together again one day.
The next morning, a farmer arrives with his wife and child. The horse they are riding looks very tired. They’re going to take the grandfather home on this wagon after saying goodbye to Eliza who is staying behind. Mattie will not leave until it’s safe for her to do so; she feels indebted because Eliza saved her life and is like family now. Grandfather dresses in his military uniform and carries King George the parrot on his shoulder as he boards the wagon that will take him away from New York City back home
It takes an hour for the tired horse to get Mattie and her grandfather from their farm to Philadelphia. During that time, Grandfather has a coughing fit and when the farmer warns him about it, he snaps at the man to mind his own business. Later on, Grandfather remarks that Mattie sounds like her mother and tells her she needs to learn how to order men around. She retorts that some men need ordering around because they don’t know what’s good for them, which makes Grandfather laugh in agreement.
Grandfather tells Mattie that they should enjoy their trip to the country and review her soldiering lessons. She groans but complies. Since she was a baby, Grandfather has taught her everything about fighting from different armies. He asks Mattie what’s necessary for soldiers to fight with, and she lists sturdy boots, a full belly, and sleeping well at night.
Mattie wakes up and notices that they’ve stopped. Four armed men are blocking their path. The farmer tells them that they’re dropping Mattie off in Gwynedd before going on to Bethlehem. They also need to see a doctor if they pass through the nearby town of Pembroke.
Mattie struggles to wake up her grandfather. When he finally wakes, he has a coughing fit and the doctor says that he is sick with disease and must be taken back to the city. Grandfather protests, but can’t control his cough. The farmer grabs Mattie and throws her onto the road along with Grandfather. He claims that they’ve only picked them up within an hour before this point in time. However, Mattie argues against him by saying that it’s not true at all because they were on their way here for days now! But the doctor agrees with what the farmer said so she lets them through town without any issue whatsoever.
Mattie and her grandfather were stranded on the roadside without food or clothing. The doctor urged them to walk back to Philadelphia for treatment, but Mattie’s grandfather was very angry about that idea. He said he would take care of his own instead.
After walking for a while, Grandfather is overcome with chills and suggests that they rest under a chestnut tree. Mattie makes him a pillow out of leaves and he falls asleep before giving further directions. She needs to get water first, so she takes his canteen from his belt and kisses him goodbye.
Mattie walks up a hill and looks along the horizon. She remembers that old soldiers used to look for willow trees, which meant they’d find water nearby. Then she finds some raspberry bushes and decides that rabbits would be near those bushes because of the smell of raspberries. She figures out that her plan is perfect: she’ll go back to the city with Grandfather and mother, where Mattie can take care of them both.
Mattie runs back to her grandfather with a skirt full of berries. She tells him that she has a plan and his eyes are not yellow, which relieves him. They share the berries as Mattie tells him about her plan. After sunset, they will move to a cooler spot by the water. Grandfather finally responds by saying that he is stubborn like Mattie’s mother always said he was.
Grandfather then says, “I am worried about your future,” and asks her how she will handle it. He continues to say that they should plan their next move carefully. Mattie is scared because he’s not telling her what to do; instead, he wants her to figure out the solution on her own. She finally tells him that they’ll be moving camp in the morning. Grandfather agrees with his response of “whatever you say, Captain.”
Mattie wakes up the next morning and goes to a nearby stream to get water. She thinks of her mother, who she sees as weak for crying while taking care of Mattie. Mattie decides that Mother must see her as lazy or stupid because she’s different from Eliza.
Mattie is near a stream, hanging her petticoat to dry. She hears fish jumping in the water and has an idea for a new way to catch them. She ties up her petticoat tightly, making it into a net, and holds open the bottom of it with one hand while she waits for fish to swim into it. The king parrot comes by at that moment and knocks Mattie over into the stream by pecking at her head.
Mattie can’t waste more time fishing. She gets some more water and berries, then hurries back to her grandfather. He’s shivering and almost too weary to speak. Mattie wonders how she will make a fire without any tinder or flint nearby. Grandfather tells her to find a farm and pay for food and blankets with money she has left over from the purchase of the supplies that were stolen from them earlier in their journey. Reluctantly, Mattie heads off in the midday heat toward a farmhouse on the horizon so that they can get warm again before nightfall approaches.
Mattie stumbles upon a farmer, but he runs inside and locks the door. He shouts that he won’t help if she has the fever. Mattie continues on her journey, hungry and wondering why people are so scared of them when they’re just trying to survive. At one point, she steps on a rotted pear and looks up to see an orchard with fruit growing everywhere. She picks as many as she can carry and goes back to Grandfather’s house.
Mattie is walking down a dirt road with heavy pears. She’s breathing heavily and hears whispers, but she imagines that it’s the sound of her feet slipping across a frozen river instead. Soon, she thinks that the sun is a snowball and her teeth are chattering. Then, suddenly, there’s just blackness.
Mattie hears voices asking if she’s dead. She opens her eyes and sees an old lady with a candle, and a man in the shadows. Mattie is cold, and she can hear moaning on either side of her.
Mattie drifts back into feverish dreams. In the dreams, she cries to a crowd of people, “What should I do?” She sees soldiers marching and Grandfather ordering them to fire at her. She jerks awake trying to separate dream from reality. Around her are familiar smells of yellow fever.
Mattie watches as two orderlies carry her neighbor, who is dead, away. Then they bring the mattress back to Mattie’s room and leave it empty. The next time she wakes up, she sees that she’s in a big room with expensive furniture and chandeliers. A nurse named Mrs. Flagg comes in and introduces herself to Mattie.
Mrs. Flagg helps Mattie sit up and explains that Grandfather has been waiting for her this whole time. Mrs. Flagg offers Mattie a bowl of broth, but she refuses because she wants to know how she got here. Mrs. Flagg explains that Grandfather doesn’t have yellow fever; his heart was acting up in the heat, but he is strong enough to carry Mattie all this way from Macon County to Atlanta.
After Mattie finishes her soup, Grandfather comes in and says that she looks well enough to be out of bed. He kisses her on the forehead and tells Mrs. Flagg that he thinks Bridget is a beautiful name for a lady. Mattie rolls her eyes while Mrs. Flagg giggles at him.
Mattie is still confused about her surroundings. When Mrs. Flagg explains that they are at Bush Hill, Mattie starts struggling out of bed and asks Grandfather to take her away from this “dangerous place.” Mrs. Flagg tucks her in firmly and explains that Bush Hill has been transformed into a respectable hospital by Mr. Stephen Girard, who drove off all the scoundrels who used to live there.
Stephen Girard is a wealthy Frenchman who was a merchant, importer, and banker. He repaired the mansion and brought in French doctors to treat the fever with their methods. Dr. Rush’s bleeding techniques were not as effective as those of the French doctor because they knew how to cure the fever better than he did.
Mattie’s grandfather says they’ve been gone for five days and that when he looked at the coffeehouse it was locked up tight. He thinks Lucille has gone to her friends, the Ludingtons, to recover from being sick.
Mattie spends a few more days recovering at Bush Hill, surrounded by nurses and doctors. She hears many stories of people who have helped the sick, as well as those who fled from sickness or grief. Mattie does not hear anything about her husband Nathaniel or their daughter Eliza.
Mattie is glad to be alive and in the barn, which is a much better place than the sick ward. She’s also happy that she has so many visitors because it helps her forget about Nathaniel and Mother. Mattie wonders what will happen next, but she knows that Grandfather will tell her everything she needs to know.
When Mattie is well enough to leave her bed, a clerk comes and says that they can’t find her mother. He tells her that she’ll have to go to a home for orphans. Mrs. Flagg intervenes and finds Grandfather, who is angry at the suggestion of sending Mattie away. The man finally relents, but Grandfather has another violent coughing fit before he regains his composure and tells Mrs. Flagg that he’s going to take her dancing one day soon.
The next day, Grandfather leaves with Mattie in a wagon filled with children. He sits up front while Mrs. Flagg and Mattie sit in the back of the wagon. It is raining heavily, but they have to leave because there are no more beds for them at Mrs. Flagg’s house. A Quaker woman named Mrs. Bowles asks questions as she comforts crying children during their journey away from Gettysburg and toward Pennsylvania.
When Mrs. Bowles learns that Mattie is 14, almost 15, she asks if Mattie has considered doing something to help the war effort now that she’s recovered from her illness. Mattie wonders aloud how she can help as she’s just a girl and doesn’t know what to do. She immediately wants to pinch herself for being so childish because Mrs. Bowles treats her like an adult by asking for her input on helping with the war effort.
Mrs. Bowles assures Mattie than she would be of use in the orphan house and would be safe and fed there since it was run by nuns who were very kind women who took care of children whose parents had died during the war or left them behind when they went off fighting in Europe..
Mattie decides to stay with her grandfather and take care of him. Mrs. Bowles tells Mattie that the streets are dangerous, but if she’s determined to remain there, then she mustn’t leave their house because it’s more dangerous than anything you could imagine. She adds that Susannah is going to be a scullery maid when she grows up, and Mattie thinks this will never happen to her because she wants run the coffeehouse instead.
Mattie is horrified to see the streets of Philadelphia filled with sick people and dead bodies. The yellow fever has spread through the city, infecting everyone and everything. She’s surprised when she sees a line of carts moving toward Potter’s Field—a place for burying strangers and criminals. Mattie goes to an orphanage run by Mrs. Bowles, who warns her that there are many dangers in Philadelphia because of the epidemic.
Mattie and her grandfather reach the coffeehouse at noon. The front door is open, with a yellow piece of paper tied to it. Mattie hurries inside and finds the place in disarray: furniture has been thrown around, items are missing, and King George’s birdcage has been smashed. It seems like whoever broke through the window also ransacked the kitchen. Mattie comforts Grandfather by pointing out that he didn’t do anything wrong; someone broke through the window
Mattie urges her grandfather to rest. He’s tired, and his face is red. She assesses the situation: some of their food has been taken, but they’re still safe because they hid their valuables in a secret place under one of the stairs. They’re alive, so she has to stay strong and clever enough to get them something to eat.
Mattie helps her grandfather hang his sword on the wall. She tells him to rest, but he salutes her as General Mattie and goes outside for a walk. He finds that insects have eaten all of Mattie’s garden. In an hour, she manages to find two handfuls of beans, some squash and some sour cherries from the overgrown garden.
Even though Mattie is eating a less than satisfactory meal, she remembers that there are still rules. She makes Silas the cat eat on the floor and prays before eating. At first, she asks God to punish those who ruined their home but then she just asks for God to deal with them as He sees fit. She also prays for her mother, Eliza, grandfather and Nathaniel.
The next morning, Mattie is awakened by the cat. She feels better now that she and Grandfather have made it through one night together. She realizes how bad she looks and smells so she decides to take a bath. She heats water over the fire, fills her tub, locks herself into the kitchen, and bathes luxuriously because this is a special occasion for her.
Mattie takes a bath and gets clean. She dries herself in front of the fire and puts on some clothes that she finds in her mother’s trunk. The clothes fit surprisingly well, so she twirls around the room to enjoy this new feeling of wearing something other than homespun.
Mattie wakes up her grandfather and makes soup out of the beans and turnips she found in the garden. The soup was not good, but they ate it anyway because they were hungry. Afterwards, Mattie went looking for potatoes in the garden to make sure that there would be enough food for supper. She found six potatoes which made them happy because now they will have something to eat tomorrow night too.
Mattie is tired from the day’s work. She can’t sleep because her grandfather snores loudly, so she makes a pallet and opens the windows to cool down the room. She feels good about managing on her own and reads a Bible passage imagining that one day she’ll have a library of her own.
Maggie is dreaming of a juicy roast beef when she hears footsteps by the window. She wakes up and sees two men standing in the moonlight, trying to break into her house. Maggie realizes that she’s no longer dreaming and that they are thieves. She wonders what to do because if she screams, her grandfather will wake up too, but then the criminals might attack both of them. And who could she run to for help?
Mattie watches in horror and anger as the men go through her family’s things, discussing how much a chess set that was won by her grandfather is worth. One of them even lifts down Grandfather’s sword and laughs that it isn’t valuable because every man in America has one from the war. Mattie glares but holds steady, even as the man playfully weaves around with the sword. But when he brings it towards her neck in darkness, she screams “no” and runs to try to get away from him into another room.
The men pursue Mattie out the kitchen door toward the gate. One of them catches up with her and yanks her back into the house. He ties her wrists together and says that Mattie can tell them where the silver and money are hidden. When Mattie spits at him, he slaps her. The other man protests, and before the two men finish their argument about what to do next, they hear a thump upstairs.
Mattie tries to convince the men that the noise was just her cat. The tall man thinks she’s lying and hits her again, demanding to know where the money is. Suddenly, Grandfather appears in the doorway with his rifle, shouting “Get away from my granddaughter!” He warns them that he’ll count to three if they don’t leave immediately. Mattie knows how serious Grandfather is when he says this because he’s not fooling around with them at all. He’s breathing hard after running down from his bedroom and up a flight of stairs so she tells him to put down his gun before something bad happens.
The tall man fires a shot at the first man, who runs out of the room. The blast from the gun knocks Grandfather against a wall and gives the second intruder an opportunity to punch him in the face. Mattie kicks him but is knocked down by his strike. She grabs her grandfather’s sword while he is distracted and cuts his shoulder with it, causing him to howl with pain and roll aside.
When the man looks at Mattie in disbelief, she raises the sword again and runs at him. She screams words that would have scared her mother, but he scrambles out of the window. Mattie chases him for a block before realizing that Grandfather needs her at home. When she returns, she finds him sitting up and smiling at her.
Mattie starts to go for water, but Grandfather stops her. He’s struggling to keep his eyes open and says he’ll be leaving soon. Mattie shakes her head and cries, begging him not to die. She tells him she loves him, that she doesn’t want him to leave her alone. He whispers back that she is strong, beautiful and clever, then dies shortly after.
Mattie feels terrible. She’s angry and confused, so she attacks a chair with the sword. When the chair is broken, she kneels by her grandfather’s body to arrange his limbs in a more dignified way. Feeling like a helpless baby girl who has just learned how to walk, Mattie wonders what she should do next.
Mattie closes her grandfather’s eyes and tries to remember other funerals she had seen. She decides that he should be buried in his nightshirt, smiling when she remembers him saying that death is eternal sleep. She covers him with a tablecloth and leaves his face uncovered because it was the finest face she has ever known.
The next morning, Mattie wakes up to a man yelling. He’s pushing a cart full of bodies down the street. The sight reminds her of Grandfather and she remembers how he died in the heat. She starts crying but stops herself because it won’t help anything. Burying him can’t be delayed since it’s so hot outside, so she has to get on with things and deal with her grief later.
Mattie runs to catch up with the cart carrying her grandfather’s body. She tucks his portrait under his arm and helps push the cart to its destination.
Mattie thinks that the funeral procession for her grandfather should have been noisy and crowded with friends, but it was silent and empty. She realizes that he is gone forever when she sees blood on her hand from a splinter.
The burial square is busy. There are about 30 or 40 men digging graves, and two of them wrap Grandfather in a large cloth and sew it shut. They prepare to throw him into the open grave, but Mattie shouts for them to stop because you can’t bury someone without prayers.
A man says that there are too many dead for separate funerals. He will pray later, but right now he is going to start with the burial of Captain William Farnsworth Cook of the Pennsylvanian Fifth Regiment. A spiteful voice tells Mattie to shut up and let it happen, but she grabs his shirt in her blistered hands and tells him not to bury anyone without a prayer.
A man pushes a burial cart and the girl tells him to stop. He takes out a book of Psalms, which he gives to her. She then reads it aloud until other men join in because they have been moved by what she is saying.
Mattie wanders the streets, wondering what to do. Should she find her way to the Ludingtons, her mother’s friends in the country? The orphan house? Or should she help out at Bush Hill, where it would remind her too much of Grandfather? So instead, Mattie buys some food and hides at home until winter sets in.
Mattie is in the middle of a snowstorm and she’s alone. She knows it would be best to walk home, but she can’t help thinking about how unsafe the streets are. When she passes by a newspaper office, though, she decides that seeing Mr. Brown will make her feel better because he always makes time for her when they meet up at social events. But when Mattie gets to his office, he seems worn out and tells her that he has no time to talk with her today.
Mattie asks Mr. Brown if she can place an advertisement in the Gazette inquiring about her mother. Mr. Brown replies that he’d like nothing better than to fulfill that request, but they’re running out of paper and he’s reduced to printing on half sheets. He wants to flee Philadelphia, but he must stay behind to print physician’s notices and orders from the mayor.
Mr. Brown buries his face in his hands and starts sobbing uncontrollably as Mattie leaves him alone with his grief-stricken wife Josephine who has been bedridden for years due to a bout of yellow fever during which Mr. Brown stayed by her side day and night until she finally recovered just before Christmas last year after which they moved into this house on Arch Street where Mrs.’Brown gave birth to their son David who is now four months old…
Mattie is interested in what Mr. Brown has to say and prompts him by asking whether there’s any news from Philadelphia, since she knows that he travels there often. He tells her the population of Philadelphia was 40,000 at the beginning of August but that half its residents have fled now because they’re worried about disease and starvation. The remaining people are starving due to a lack of food and high prices for those who remain. Frost would help end this situation, so Mattie decides not to tell him about Grandfather’s illness when she leaves his print shop after learning nothing new about Philadelphia from him.
Mattie walks down the street and is suddenly stopped by an older woman with a cane. She has a cloth over her face, demanding to know what Mattie’s doing there. When Mattie asks about neighbors she used to know who live in Bush Hill, the woman screams at her and knocks her into the dirt with her cane.
Mattie continues to wander the streets, thinking of painful memories. She then snaps out of it: “Grandfather would be disappointed if he saw me like this.” Suddenly Mattie nearly trips over a broken doll in the street. As she picks up the doll, she hears whimpering through an open door in front of her. When Mattie looks inside, she finds a small girl sucking her thumb and with dirty hair tangled all around her face. The little girl wears no shoes or socks on her feet and looks very skinny and unhappy. Mattie asks if that doll belongs to the little girl and how old is he/she is? The child answers that it’s hers but it’s broken because someone stepped on it by accident. And when Mattie asks where are their parents; “Mama’s Broken too,” is his answer as he whimpers again for attention from anyone who can help him/her out of his/her misery at being left alone without any care or support from anyone…
Nell’s mother is dead, and her body is still in the house. Mattie realizes that she needs to take Nell somewhere safe. The neighbors can’t take in another child, so someone suggests looking for Reverend Allen’s group—the Free African Society. She picks up Nell and starts walking toward their meeting place.
Mattie sees two black women ahead of her and recognizes one of them. She starts running towards the women, dragging Nell along with her. One drunken man tries to stop Mattie from going any further, but she bites him on his hand and keeps running.
Mattie has lost track of the two women. She is carrying Nell and talking to a woman outside her house. The woman directs Mattie into the house, where she talks to a man who is trying to fan his wife, who seems very sick. He explains that some people from the Free African Society have brought bread for them; they may be able to help Eliza (Nell’s mother). Mattie runs out of the house and shouts “Eliza!” until someone answers her call. It turns out that it was Eliza all along, but she couldn’t hear because she had been inside a room with no windows or doors.
When Mattie is in Eliza’s arms, she thinks about her mother and grandfather. She cries because they’re dead and she was forced to leave them behind. Eliza tells Mattie that it’s getting dark outside, so they’ll talk more later. She offers to carry Nell but Nell holds on tightly to Mattie’s neck. Soon the trio reaches Joseph’s house where he lives with his wife, Lucille (Mattie’s mother). Before going upstairs, Mattie wants to know if her mom survived the sickness like Eliza said she would. Eliza assures her that Lucille did survive the fever and meant to follow them here but got lost along the way. However, now it’s too late for searching since they’ve already reached their destination at last.
Eliza leads Mattie and Nell into Joseph’s rooms above the cooperage. He has a small, tidy space with his wife’s death last week and is still in bed, grieving. His twin boys aren’t sick yet either. Eliza hugs them both then introduces Mattie and Nell to Robert and William. A little old lady enters the room leaning on a cane who demands to know who they are when she learns that they’re staying with Eliza for food because they haven’t eaten all day. She snorts at their appearance saying that she can’t leave without food then promises to return tomorrow before leaving herself. The woman is Mother Smith of Free African Society watching over Joseph’s boys while Eliza volunteers there as well
Eliza serves stew for Mattie, but she refuses to eat. Eliza asks why and is told that the boys need it more than her. Mattie watches as the three children eat and begins to form a plan in her head, but puts it aside because she knows that she needs to deal with each hour one at a time. Once the children are asleep, Eliza forces Mattie into a chair with lemonade and demands that she tell her everything about what happened before they arrived on their doorstep. She tells them all of the details of how Grandfather died and how his death was caused by illness. She cries because she feels guilty for not doing anything differently or better so he wouldn’t have gotten sicker or even die while they were there with him. Eliza reassures her that it wasn’t anyone’s fault; no one could have done anything differently to prevent this from happening, including herself or Grandfather himself.
Eliza watches Nell sleeping. She tells Mattie that she and Nell should probably go to the orphan house. Mattie begs her not to take her there and says she’s old enough to take care of herself. Eliza says they’ll talk about it in the morning, but for now, she needs help mending Robert’s clothes.
A few weeks ago, Dr. Benjamin Rush wrote to the Free African Society asking for help with a yellow fever epidemic in Philadelphia. Although this turned out not to be true, Reverend Allen believed that it was an opportunity for black people to show they are just as important and useful as white people. The society began organizing itself so that they could visit and care for sick patients without noticing their color or race. Eliza acknowledges that the society has done a remarkable job caring for thousands of patients who were affected by the epidemic regardless of their race or ethnicity. However, many black patients have gotten sick as well during this time period.
After a long period of silence, Mattie asks Eliza if they will die. Eliza replies that she can’t because she has too much work to do. She advises Mattie not to be afraid and tells her that all they have to do is find a way to survive until the cold season arrives.
The next morning, Mattie wakes up to find that Nell has wet the bed. She scrubs the children’s beds and washes all their clothes while they watch. When Eliza leaves for her Society duties and Mother Smith arrives to help, she criticizes Mattie’s cleaning, stitching, and childcare skills.
Mother Smith tells Mattie not to get too attached to little Nell. She says that she can’t keep her because she’s an orphan and will be sent away soon. Mother Smith says this is cruel and unfair for both of them, but Mattie keeps thinking about it all night.
The next morning, Mattie talks to Eliza about Nell. She agrees with Mother Smith that she has to think about Nell’s future. If Lucille is alive, she won’t want another child to raise. And if she isn’t, what will Mattie do then? It would be best for them to take her back to the orphanage right away. Eliza agrees that it would be best for them to do so immediately and not wait any longer than they have already done so.
As Eliza, Nell, and Mattie walk to the orphan house, Mattie tries to distract herself from heartbreak by telling herself that she’s doing the right thing for Nell. When they arrive at the orphan house, a woman with three screaming children answers the door. She asks if anyone else is available to take in Nell; they’re overwhelmed with fever orphans right now because it’s become a last resort for people who can’t care for their own children.
Mattie looks into Nell’s trusting eyes and wants to tell her a story. She thanks the woman for letting them stay, but she feels like they’re better off staying together. Eliza agrees with her that it’s best if they all stay together.
Eliza tells Nell a story about Colette Ogilvie, who almost died from the fever. However, she revealed that she had eloped with her tutor on her deathbed and refused to leave until he was allowed to join them. Mattie laughs at this story because it’s so funny.
Mattie notices that daisies are flying through the air. She looks up and sees a man pushing flowers through a window. It’s Mr. Peale’s house, so she realizes it must be Nathaniel sending her flowers again.
Mattie’s father and stepmother agree that Mattie should not return to the coffeehouse. Her father is strong enough to care for her, so Eliza recruits Mattie into her Society relief work.
Mattie is not prepared for the emotional toll of caring for Eliza. She hadn’t expected to see so many people die, especially mothers with their children. Mattie cries when she sees this, but still supports Eliza every day and night. The heat and fever persist in Philadelphia, and there are rumors about what’s causing it all. However, Eliza just shakes her head when she hears these rumors; they have work to do together.
Eliza is very angry with the apothecary because he charges too much for drugs and says that pharmacists and coffin makers are only profiting from the plague. She tells Mattie to go help several families who are suffering. Eliza is surprised when Mattie agrees to help her out, even though she usually doesn’t like doing extra work.
When the two return to their home, they find it dark and silent. They discover Joseph sitting before the fire with his face in his hands; he’s crying. The twins are panting on the bed; Nell is also sick. Seeing this, Eliza is shaken up too. Mattie thinks about what to do next. She notices that the children need fresher air, so she tells Eliza, “We’ll take them to our coffeehouse.”
Mattie and Eliza pack the twins, Nell, and the mule cart with supplies for their trip. Mattie is convinced that she can’t be helpful if she breaks down emotionally. Mother Smith supports Joseph as they watch the cart drive away into the city.
Mattie and Eliza struggled to get the mattress into their home. They then settled the children in the front room, which was cooler than other rooms. During prayer time, Mattie paced around while Eliza prayed for Nathaniel’s safety. She stubbed her toe on a painting of flowers that Nathaniel had done earlier and pressed it against her cheek as she thought about him staying safe at home. A short time later, Eliza woke up Mattie because she was worried about how sick Nell and Simon were getting; however, Mattie tried to reassure Eliza by saying that they could do this together (take care of the twins). It would be hard work but they knew what needed to be done: stoke a fire so they could wash more sheets with all of the dirty laundry from taking care of Nell and Simon.
As the children’s conditions worsen, Eliza becomes convinced that they should be bled. Mattie argues against it, stating that even though Dr. Rush swears by bleeding as a remedy for yellow fever, French doctors reject it and she survived without being bled. Joseph had been bled and still died of yellow fever; therefore, he argues that the insight of more experienced West Indian doctors is most valuable—they have much more experience with yellow fever than American doctors do. Finally, Eliza agrees to let them bleed her son only after watching him vomit blood into a bowl from which he drinks his tea in the morning scene (IV).
The children’s urgent needs end the discussion. After a long night, Mattie goes outside for water and struggles to keep her eyes open because she is so tired from taking care of them. She fears that the suffering will never end. She tries to draw up the bucket from the well, but lacks even this small amount of strength. She stares at her garden and remembers when she planted beans there as a child with Blanchard’s yellow balloon in sight; however, all hope has been lost now since he died in war and his mother was taken away by soldiers who came looking for him. Finally, she lays down on the ground next to her bean plants and falls asleep there in exhaustion after working hard all day caring for others’ children while trying not to think about what happened earlier that morning with John Ames Boughton or later that evening when Hightower returned home drunk again after leaving town once more without saying goodbye.
Mattie was awakened by her cat, Silas, slapping her face and kneading her stomach. When she opened her eyes, she saw that there was frost on the ground from an early winter quill. She is shivering because of the cold air. Mattie tells Eliza that it’s a dream but then realizes it’s real when she smells the crisp air and sees sparkling ice crystals in the yard. They jump up and down for joy because they are so happy about their discovery of frost outside.
In the middle of the day, Joseph sends a messenger with food for Mattie and Eliza. Farmers are returning to the city market, which means it’s likely that there will be more people around who could spread disease. That evening, they sleep outside on their furniture so that any diseases in the air will freeze and die when it gets cold at night. The children have been sick but are feeling better now.
The next morning, Joseph visits the house. He immediately embraces all three children and thanks Mattie and Eliza for saving his sons. Joseph gives handmade toys to each of them. He tells Eliza that he’ll be forever in her debt for bringing him back his boys safe and sound. The four sit on the porch drinking cider while they discuss their plans for the day—Joseph will take care of Will Jr., James, and Little Joe, while Mattie goes to town to search for news about her mother at the market place. After some time passes, Mattie asks if she can go into town alone; Eliza reminds her that she doesn’t need permission from anyone (not even herself) in order to make decisions regarding what she wants or needs to do with her life.
The market is filled with good news. Mattie wandered to the Eplers’ stall and they gave her two fat hens and some eggs for free, promising to ask around about Lucille. She also bought produce and candy while she was there.
Mattie happens to catch a glimpse of herself in the haberdasher’s window, and she realizes that she has changed. She is no longer Matilda Cook who is Lucille’s daughter and Captain William Farnsworth Cook’s granddaughter. Instead, Mattie decides to set her own course in life. Someone grabs her elbow but it turns out to be Nathaniel. They start walking together, and as they do so they talk about how everything seems different now that there are fewer people around than before the epidemic hit. Nathaniel jokes that Mattie’s mother will soon come home from New York City with a lawyer on her arm for Mattie. However, when he says this Mattie tells him that she won’t let anyone marry her off like that because she wants to choose whom she marries for herself instead of having someone else decide for her.”
Over the next week, Nathaniel calls Mattie frequently. They go on walks together and walk as far away from Philadelphia as they can. Meanwhile, hundreds of people return to Philadelphia. Mattie wishes she could tell them not to be so happy when there are still survivors who need help more than they do. Eliza tells her that she shouldn’t be bitter about what happened, but it’s hard for Mattie because the people who returned were better off than those remaining in the city.
Eliza suggests that the family have a small feast with Joseph and their twins. Mother Smith comes too, and she is impressed by Mattie’s preparations for the feast. Later on, Joseph asks Mattie what she has decided about her future—whether to get married or stay in New York City as a business owner. It seems like he thinks it’s inevitable that Mattie will need to get married, so they can use the money from her dowry to start up his coffeehouse idea. When Eliza and Nathaniel join them at dinner later on, they argue about whether marriage is practical for women like Mattie who want to be independent business owners instead of housewives. Listening to this conversation makes Mattie realize how much she resents being talked over by the men in her life; it reminds her of when Mother Smith would talk over Grandfather when they were making decisions together while ignoring what Matilda wanted out of life.
Mattie explains that she’s reopening the coffeehouse with a partner. She wants Eliza to be her partner, because they can trust each other and work together well. Mattie doesn’t want money from Eliza; she just wants to share the business with her so that Nell and the twins can stay at the coffeehouse.
When Eliza is hesitant about accepting the partnership, Mother Smith insists that she take it. She and Joseph encourage them to have the partnership written up legally so people won’t talk. Eliza looks around at everyone and finally accepts. She and Mattie hug as Nathaniel laughs at her formal behavior. They agree that they should act like business owners now that they’re partners in Cook’s Cafe, but can’t help laughing together.
Later, the coffeehouse is filled with people. They argue and smoke cigarettes. The smell of fresh coffee and cakes fill the air. Mattie offers free samples of apple cake to entice people in while Nathaniel paints a sign for the front of the store. Eliza admits that Nathaniel has some value as a painter for Peale’s museum.
After refilling the coffee cups, Mattie looks around and sees Nathaniel’s paintings. She is happy that everything is going well for her business. However, she still feels empty inside because of what she has lost in the past. When Nathaniel comes back into the shop to report that George Washington has returned, everyone rushes out to see him with their own eyes.
Nathaniel and Mattie watch the president riding down the street, an assurance that the fever is truly over. Mattie spontaneously kisses Nathaniel’s cheek. People are returning to their homes and businesses as they realize that there is no longer a threat of infection. Nathaniel notices a group of wagons trailing behind the president’s carriage, carrying people who have been quarantined due to illness but are now healthy enough to return home. One woman steps out of one wagon, supported by her driver and another person from inside the wagon. The woman turns around so that she can be helped into her house by her daughter; when she faces toward them again, it becomes obvious that Mother has returned home safely.
Mattie runs into her mother’s arms. Lucille feels like a frail bird in Mattie’s arms, but she doesn’t want to appear weak in front of Mrs. Ludington and Nathaniel so she breaks away from the hug. She introduces them to each other as they walk into the coffeehouse together, and all of the customers stand up out of respect for Lucille because they know how much it means to her that everyone respects her even though she is not well anymore. Eliza comes rushing out of the kitchen crying when she sees Lucille because Eliza was worried about how sick Lucille had gotten while living with them on their farm. They embrace and cry together before sitting down at a table where Eliza brings them coffee while they catch up on what has happened since last time they saw each other when Mattie was younger.
Mrs. Ludington explains that Lucille is still recovering from the fever, which was a close call for her. However, since she’s recovered and is out of danger now, Mrs. Ludington wants to move her away from the city to live in the country with them because she thinks it will be better for her health.
After Mrs. Ludington leaves, Mattie tells Lucille about Grandfather’s death. Finally, Mother cries as she tells Mattie how desperately she searched for her daughter. She then reassures her that she no longer has to worry anymore and continues to tell the details of her survival as well as marveling at the stillness of Mother’s hands while doing so.
Mattie wakes up to the sound of Silas catching a mouse. It is cold outside, but she knows that no one else will get her family up in time for breakfast. She quickly gets dressed and does not wake Nell. In the next bed, Mother is still sleeping from coughing late into the night. Mattie lets her sleep—she needs it after being sick all night long. Across the hall, Eliza, Robert and William are still asleep too (they will be awake soon).
Mattie is happy as the sun rises. It’s a giant balloon filled with hopes and prayers and promises, which she shakes off to get ready for the new day.