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Summary

Fever, 1793 Chapter 5 Summary Page 1

August 24th, 1793

  • A week goes by and Philadelphia's death toll reaches sixty-four. Rumors start flying and people begin avoiding the shops by the river – good news for Matilda and her family at the coffeehouse.
  • With the increased business and the loss of Polly, Matilda and the rest of her family work around the clock at the coffeehouse.
  • One day, Grandfather suggests to Matilda's exhausted mother, Lucille, that Matilda be sent out to fetch groceries from the marketplace.
  • As she's deliberating, Lucille mentions that she's been thinking about sending Matilda to the country to stay with the Ludington family. Mattie is so not into this idea. Grandfather, too, chastises Lucille for considering sending her daughter away.
  • Matilda's mother eventually decides to let her go to the market, but warns her not to loiter in front of the Peale house. (That would be where Nathaniel Benson is an apprentice.) Mattie blushes big time. Busted!
  • Mattie arrives at the market and takes in the sights and sounds: the horn of the charcoal man, clucking chickens, and West Indian women serving up tasty stews.
  • Matilda approaches the egg sellers, the German Mr. and Mrs. Epler. The couple immediately brings up the fever and how they think it's a punishment from God for people who don't go to church. Matilda doesn't comment, but just buys her eggs and moves on. (Good strategy.)
  • At Mr. Owens's stall, Matilda buys some pitiful looking cabbages (the drought, of course, has hurt the produce). She then buys lemons, which, she imagines, smell exactly like Paris.
  • After buying some moldy cheese from Mrs. Hotchkiss (also a smell in Paris?), Matilda runs into the one, the only Nathaniel Benson (who else?). He grabs her shopping basket away from her. Cue the butterflies in stomach.
  • Mattie checks out Nathaniel's fine hair, with its "beautiful chestnut color" (5.58), but she also thinks about how her mother says that he'd be an unsuitable marriage match. (Frowny face.)
  • Deciding to stay a bit longer in daydream land, Mattie reminisces about last winter when Nathaniel played with her in the snow and watched Blanchard's balloon launch. Swoon!
  • Mattie eventually comes to and makes some chit-chat with Nathaniel. She manages to get her basket back by telling him his shoe buckle is missing. (Oldest trick in the book.)
  • Not to be outdone, Nathaniel swipes an apple from Mattie's basket and tells her that he has the day off and asks her to go fishing. Double swoon!
  • Before Mattie can answer definitively, the church bell tolls, which means that another person is dead.
  • The conversation turns away from a fishing date to the fever and the recent death of Polly the serving girl. Matilda gets a little teary eyed about the subject and things get kind of quiet. Looks like fishing is not happening today after all.
  • As she's leaving, Mattie not so smoothly wishes Nathaniel luck with his paints. She immediately feels like a dork: "Did I really say that? What a ninny" (5.94).
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