Matilda at last arrives in the kitchen where her mother proceeds to lecture her. Again with the "When I was a girl…" stuff (2.4)!
Matilda describes her family's kitchen, which is large compared with her family. The house is home only to Matilda, her mother, and her grandfather. Plus, there's Eliza, a free black woman who works for the family as a cook.
Matilda notes that the kitchen "could feed one hundred people in a day" because it's part of the Cook Coffeehouse, the business her family runs (2.5).
Matilda's father, a carpenter, built the coffeehouse in 1783 after the War for Independence. (Matilda was four.) Unfortunately, he fell off of a ladder and died of a broken neck only two months after the coffeehouse was completed.
Matilda's widowed mother now runs the coffeehouse with her father-in-law (Matilda's grandfather). No alcohol is served, but there are card games and a bit of gambling.
The coffeehouse is also a place for merchants, politicians, and city-dwellers to drink coffee and discuss the news of the day. (For more, see our section on "Setting: Coffeehouse.")
Matilda is also greeted by Eliza, the most excellent coffeehouse cook. A brief aside on Eliza, courtesy of Matilda:
Eliza is a free black woman living in Philadelphia. (A good city for Eliza, since the Quakers in Philadelphia didn't believe in slavery.) She was born in Williamsburg, Virginia, and was freed by her husband who saved up his money from horseshoeing and bought her freedom.
Eliza moved to Philadelphia to save money in order to free her husband
However, when Matilda was eight years old, Eliza's husband was killed by a runaway horse. Matilda notes that both her mother and Eliza lost their husbands, but Eliza "didn't turn sour like Mother did" (2.15).
Matilda tells us that she sees Eliza as her best friend. Aww!
Back to the scene at hand: Eliza serves Matilda some oatmeal with a lump of sugar at the bottom. Yum. The two discuss Polly's tardiness.
Matilda's mother enters the room and inquires after Polly and also Matilda's grandfather, who has gone to fetch a box of tea. Matilda offers to search for the two of them, but her mother decides to go after them herself. In the meantime, Matilda is to tend the garden.
Matilda has a bit more to eat (cold veal, corn bread), steals a bit of Eliza's coffee, and heads to the garden.
The city has been in a state of drought, so the plants in the garden are a bit droopy.
As Matilda begins to water the plants, she starts to daydream about traveling to France and buying beautiful fabrics and jewelry to sell back in America. Ever the entrepreneur, she reveals that she wants to "own an entire city block – a proper restaurant, an apothecary, maybe a school, or a hatter's shop" (2.41). What a modern lady!
Matilda realizes she's been watering a row of weeds.
Mother returns and tells Matilda that Polly the serving girl is not simply late. She is dead.