Study Guide

Fever, 1793 Summary

By Laurie Halse Anderson

Fever, 1793 Summary

Matilda "Mattie" Cook is a fourteen-year-old girl living above a coffeehouse in Philadelphia with her mother, grandfather (a former military man), a parrot named King George, and an orange cat named Silas. Eliza, a free black woman, is the coffeehouse cook. A typical teenager, Mattie is always in the middle of daydreams, beginning to notice boys and getting into all kinds of arguments with her single mother, Lucille. (Sounds like some things never change.)

One day, the coffeehouse's serving girl, Polly, doesn't show up for work. Turns out she came down with a case of the fever, and the next thing you know, she's being buried. Scary, right? Matilda sure thinks so. More and more cases of the fever start popping up, and rumors of an epidemic spread through the coffeehouse and across the city. Around this time, we're also introduced to the ever-so-dreamy Nathaniel Benson, a painter's apprentice, who Matilda runs into at the marketplace. The two have been friends for a long time, but Matilda is starting to see the chap in a whole new, hearts-and-flowers kind of light.

Anyhow, Matilda's very own mother, Lucille, is the next person to fall ill. One doctor after another visits the coffeehouse and, soon enough, they start draining her blood in an effort to cure her. (An unfortunate practice popularized, as we learn, by the physician Benjamin Rush.) During the illness, Matilda's mother demands that her daughter be removed to the country to avoid becoming infected with yellow fever too.

To please Lucille, Matilda and her grandfather set off for the safety of the country in a wagon with a farmer and his family. When they get stopped by town guards, though, Matilda and her grandfather are mistaken for fever patients and booted from the wagon. Not even the farmer and his family will come to their rescue! (It's every family for themselves, apparently.) Abandoned in the country, Matilda tries to care for her ailing grandfather (he's not in good shape, but doesn't have yellow fever), but falls ill herself with the fever herself. She starts to feel dizzy, and the next thing you know, everything goes black.

When Matilda wakes, she's in a bed at Bush Hill, a hospital staffed by Dr. Deveze and other French doctors who, unlike Dr. Benjamin Rush, don't believe in bleeding their patients. Instead, they recommend bed rest and food. Right on! Mrs. Flagg, a nurse, flirts with Grandfather and helps Matilda get back on her feet.

Once recovered, Matilda and Grandfather return to the city where they unfortunately find the coffeehouse completely ransacked by looters and thieves. Matilda does her best to provide food for herself and her grandfather, scavenging what she can from the small garden. One night, though, robbers enter the coffeehouse through an open window and attack Mattie, who's sleeping downstairs. Grandfather intervenes and gets injured in a scuffle with one of the robbers. He dies with Matilda at his side. It's all very, very sad, and Mattie, completely alone now, takes it pretty darn hard.

After seeing her grandfather properly buried, Matilda wanders around the city of Philadelphia. She finds an orphan in the doorway of a building named Nell, who has lost her mother. Taking Nell under her wing, Matilda soon tracks down a familiar face: Eliza, the former coffeehouse cook and one of Matilda's best friends.

Eliza takes Matilda and Nell to her brother Joseph's house, where Matilda meets Joseph, his twin boys, and Mother Smith, a crotchety old woman who's helping take care of the boys since their mother passed away. Matilda helps with the children and works with the Free African Society with Eliza, where they care for fever patients and their families.

Unfortunately, the children (Nell and the twins) soon come down with yellow fever themselves. Because Joseph's place is too hot, Eliza and Matilda move them to the coffeehouse, where they work day and night nursing the children. Eventually, the frost comes and the children's fever breaks. Matilda is reunited with hunky Nathaniel Benson in the marketplace. People from the country start filtering back into the city, including President Washington.

The coffeehouse opens back up and Matilda asks Eliza to be her business partner. After a little coaxing, she agrees. Nathaniel Benson starts coming around, and Matilda hangs his paintings on the walls of the coffeehouse. Eliza organizes a feast of thanksgiving for the whole clan: Mattie, Mother Smith, the twins, Joseph, and even Nathaniel.

Eventually, Matilda's mother returns to town, and the two are reunited. It's clear that Lucille is not as strong as she once was, but Matilda is building a new life, and a new family for them. With the memory of those they have lost, Matilda looks forward to the future of the coffeehouse and being with those she loves.

  • Chapter 1

    August 16th, 1793

    • Our narrator awakes on a hot and sweaty morning in August 1793. A mosquito is buzzing in one of her ears and someone is screeching in the other.
    • The narrator's mother is demanding that she, a young girl named Matilda, get out of bed. Someone named Polly, the mother tells us, is running late.
    • Matilda, we learn, lives in a not very large room above a coffeehouse in Philadelphia.
    • Matilda's mother again urges her to get out of bed with the classic line: "When I was a girl, we were up before the sun…" (1.6). (Sound familiar? It does to us.)
    • Matilda has apparently heard this one before. Her mother was a perfect child who grew up during the American Revolutionary War. She was a hard worker who stitched quilts and spun wool all before breakfast. Matilda's thoughts on this? "How utterly unlike me" (1.7).
    • Matilda snuggles back down into her bed and imagines herself floating away like the famous Pierre Blanchard's hot air balloon. ("For more on Blanchard, see: Symbols, Imagery, Allegory: Blanchard's Hot Air Balloon.")
    • Eventually, Matilda gets out of bed and hits her head on the ceiling. (A nocturnal growth spurt?) She decides to forgo washing up.
    • Matilda watches her cat Silas pounce on a mouse and nearly drop his breakfast onto her mother's best quilt. Matilda manages to shoo the cat away.
    • Matilda gets dressed and realizes that she's starting to outgrow her clothes.
    • She then takes the dead mouse carcass and considers throwing it out the front window.
    • Leaning out the window, Matilda surveys Philadelphia, her city: "Below the window, High Street teemed with horsemen, carriages and carts" (1.25).
    • The sound of the blacksmith's anvil reminds her of Polly, the serving girl who's running late. Matilda assumes Polly must be visiting her beau, Matthew, who is the blacksmith's son.
    • Matilda tells us that her favorite place in the city is the waterfront, with the docks and the ship masts and such.
    • She again imagines floating free like Pierre Blanchard's hot air balloon. (For more, see: "Symbols, Imagery, Allegory: Blanchard's Hot Air Balloon.")
    • Matilda mentions Nathaniel Benson, a boy who has heard her talk about Blanchard's hot air balloon. She sometimes sees him down at the docks where he sketches the ships or the sea birds.
    • Matilda stops herself from throwing the mouse corpse out the front window. She instead flings the dead creature out the back window overlooking the garden so that Silas can find his morning breakfast.
  • Chapter 2

    August 16th, 1793

    • 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.
  • Chapter 3

    August 16th, 1793

    • Matilda is in shock that Polly, her former playmate and "cradle friend," is totally gone (3.2).
    • Matilda's mother explains to both Matilda and Eliza that there was no doctor present at Polly's death. The girl had simply taken a fever and then died in bed. Mother mentions that a man living across the alley is also sick.
    • Matilda closes her eyes and imagines Polly as she was: happy, and with her beau Matthew.
    • Eliza suggests that Mattie (Matilda's nickname) take a ham over to the grieving family, but Mother doesn't want her to get exposed to the sickness.
    • Matilda's mother also forbids her from attending the funeral. Mattie is angered by this and lashes out. She's then made to apologize to her mother, "the captain I had to obey" (3.25).
  • Chapter 4

    August 16th, 1793

    • By noon, the coffeehouse is packed with customers. One of them is Mattie's grandfather, Captain William Farnsworth Cook, a feisty old soldier who served under George Washington during the Revolutionary War.
    • Grandfather is hanging out with King George (as in, his parrot), a businessman named Mr. Carris, and a lawyer.
    • Mr. Carris teases Mattie that she'll have to find a husband soon. (She's so not amused by this.)
    • The men are discussing the fever breaking out in the city. Mr. Carris believes it's caused by a "deadly miasma" – the foul stench from a bunch of rotting coffee beans down at the docks (4.11).
    • The lawyer says that he's heard stories of a fever breaking out among the refugees down by Ball's Wharf.
    • A doctor sitting nearby pipes up and says that the fever isn't just striking the refugees. There may be a new epidemic in town: yellow fever. The room grows quiet.
    • The doctor says that it's too early to say yet if the fever is indeed an epidemic, but that some folks in the city are taking precautions by sending women and children to the country where the air is cool and healthy. Grandfather scoffs at this.
    • The day proceeds and Matilda does her own work (figuring the bills, keeping the accounts), as well as the late Polly's tasks (washing, sweep, dusting).
    • Matilda goes to help her mother put away the clean china, but her mother replies, "Polly will do it in the morning" (4.35). She stops and realizes that Polly is, of course, dead. Sigh.
    • Matilda wonders if anyone has told Matthew.
  • Chapter 5

    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).
  • Chapter 6

    August 30th, 1793

    • Matilda is outside washing clothes in the hot, hot heat as Grandfather and Silas (the cat) look on.
    • She remembers winter longingly, specifically ice skating with the Benson and Peale families (and, even more specifically, ice skating with one Nathaniel Benson).
    • Speaking of that charming man, Grandfather inquires after Nathaniel. Word has gotten around that he was harassing Matilda in the marketplace.
    • Matilda defends Nathaniel, saying he acted like a gentleman; to this, Grandfather replies that Nathaniel should find himself a better apprenticeship. Fair enough.
    • Silas provides some comic relief by (unsuccessfully) chasing a squirrel around the garden.
    • After the washing is all done, it's time for the midday meal: "Cold chicken, crisp pickles, butter biscuits, and peach pie were laid out on the table" (6.26). We'll take seconds.
    • Over lunch, the family discusses what to do with their extra earnings. Grandfather wants to go into trade and open a regular store.
    • Mattie, ever the businesswoman, suggests buying another coffee urn and expanding the business to include meal service and meeting rooms. As an ardent Francophile, she'd also like to sell trinkets and baubles from France.
    • Mother puts an end to speculation by saying that the increase in business is temporary and is only due to the fear of fever.
    • Grandfather comments that the fever was brought in by refugees and argues that they should be quarantined.
    • Mother suggests going to the country, but Grandfather protests: "We Cooks are made of stronger stuff!" (6.40)
    • A knock at the door brings a message. It's an invitation from the rich Pernilla Ogilvie. She'd like Matilda and her mother to come over for tea.
    • Mother is excited because she sees a potential match for Matilda with Pernilla's son, Edward. Matilda, however, protests since the family is a bunch of snobs (and Edward is not Nathaniel Benson). Eventually, though, she agrees to go.
    • Matilda and her mother have no new or fancy clothes, so Matilda wears an older dress with the side seams let out; Mother puts on an old stained ivory dress last seen around the time of the Revolutionary War.
    • Matilda lets Eliza brush her hair, but draws the line when it comes to curling. She wants it left straight.
    • As Matilda is being dressed, the conversation turns to the marriage market and Edward Ogilvie. Matilda violently objects to the idea. "You make it sound like I'm one of Mrs. Epler's chickens, ready for the market!" (6.86).
    • Mother doesn't push the subject too far, but does mention that she doesn't want Mattie to become "another miserable spinster" (6.93). Ouch.
    • Matilda maintains that Mother runs the coffeehouse just fine without a husband – and she can too.
    • Eventually, she's all dolled up and ready to go, "tightened, pinned, and locked" into her clothes (6.95).
  • Chapter 7

    August 30th, 1793

    • Mother and Matilda arrive at the Ogilvie mansion where they are led to the drawing room by the maid.
    • Pernilla Ogilvie enters with her fabulous gown and over-powdered hair. A few snarky pleasantries are exchanged and then Pernilla rings the bell for tea.
    • Before the tea arrives, the two Ogilvie daughters appear: Colette and Jeannine. They're dressed in matching pink and yellow gowns and their hair is curled. Matilda now wishes she had let Eliza curl her hair.
    • The women take their tea. Mrs. Ogilvie mentions that Colette and Jeannine are taking French lessons.
    • The subject turns to the French more generally as Matilda attempts to reach the cake plate on the table without ripping her dress. No such luck. Jeannine cattily moves the cake plate even further away.
    • Mrs. Ogilvie chit chats about where President Washington and Martha will be summering (name drop, much?) and moves on to blaming the fever outbreak on the refugees.
    • Mother changes the subject and asks Pernilla about her sons. Jeannine comments that they are all away at school.
    • Mrs. Ogilvie lets drop that Colette is engaged to Lord Garthing's son. Colette, meanwhile, is starting to a look a little green around the gills and complains about the heat.
    • The subject of marriage continues to be discussed and Matilda feels increasingly out of place and uncomfortable.
    • As Mother asks more and more questions about Mrs. Ogilvie's sons, Jeannine becomes particularly insulting. "Mrs. Cook is asking if you might consider Miss Cook as a wife for one of our brothers. And I imagine their filthy little tavern is part of the deal" (7.55).
    • At this, Mattie snaps and starts yelling at Jeannine. Insults fly. Mother gets involved.
    • Before punches are thrown, Colette suddenly collapses. Feeling the girl's head, Mother declares that it is (dun dun dun): the fever! (No, not a case of embarrassment over her mother's or her sister's behavior.)
  • Chapter 8

    September 2nd, 1793

    • The church bells continue to toll and the dead bodies start piling up. It's hot as heck and the mosquitoes are swarming.
    • Eliza asks Mattie to pick some asparagus grass for her from the garden to hang in the kitchen. The plant is supposed to help ward off flies.
    • Eliza asks Mattie to taste the pudding and Eliza remarks that it needs more sugar. Expensive taste this girl has! Eliza suggests that perhaps Matilda should consider the rich Edward Ogilvie for a husband after all. (Perhaps he has a flat in Paris?)
    • Eliza leaves for a meeting with the Free African Society as Grandfather arrives to take Mattie with him to the newspaper office.
    • At Andrew Brown's print shop, Grandfather and Mr. Carris discuss the fever outbreak and read over the mayor's orders from a broadsheet that's being printed. Lots of stuff about avoiding the "infected" and keeping the streets clean (8.31-8.42).
    • Mr. Carris and Grandfather love to talk and boy do they ever. The men first broach the topic of what to do with the poor and where to bury the dead. They then speculate about the city's death toll, whether to head to the country, and the government's plan of action.
    • On the walk home Mattie wonders when the frost will come. "Frost always kills fever" (8.68).
    • Once they reach the coffeehouse Mattie and Grandfather see a man pushing a wheelbarrow with a limp body in it. He dumps the body in the street, and they realize that it's none other than Mattie's own mother.
  • Chapter 9

    September 2nd, 1793

    • Mother is, thankfully, not dead, so Grandfather and Mattie move her inside and put her in bed.
    • Grandfather insists that she simply fainted from the heat, but Matilda can tell something is really, really wrong.
    • Grandfather gets Mr. Rowley to have a look at Mother, even though the guy isn't really a doctor, has dirty hands, and reeks of rum. (Not promising.)
    • Mr. Rowley declares that Mother doesn't have yellow fever. He reveals that he's on the conservative side of the yellow fever debate and therefore uses the diagnosis sparingly.
    • Per doctor's orders, Matilda has to bathe her mother every four hours and keep her cool and clean. Lucille remains in a feverish haze, shivering and moaning.
    • That night Grandfather stays with Mr. Carris and Eliza leaves to go to her brother's family. Matilda is left alone with her mother.
    • Matilda tends to her patient, reads her Psalm book, and dozes off from time to time.
    • Mother awakes and begins vomiting black fluid. She tells Matilda get out of the room so that she doesn't get sick too.
  • Chapter 10

    September 6th, 1793

    • The next day, Eliza and Grandfather bring in Dr. Kerr, a Scottish physician who calls Mr. Rowley an "imposter" and declares that Matilda's mother most definitely has yellow fever (10.12). Yikes.
    • Dr. Kerr, a disciple of Dr. Benjamin Rush, decides that Mother must be bled. He takes ten ounces of blood and promises to come back tomorrow to take another ten. (Doesn't sound like such a good idea to us.) He also advises that she be given jalap and calomel to help "purge" the disease (10.23).
    • Downstairs, Dr. Kerr and Grandfather decide that it's best to send Matilda out of the city to the Ludingtons' farm after all.
    • Grandfather is to accompany Mattie, so he leaves to hire a coach. Meanwhile Mattie tries to convince Eliza to let her stay – no luck whatsoever.
    • A package arrives at the coffeehouse for Matilda: inside is a painting of "delicate flowers, bright blue, lavender and red" (10.52). There's also a very sweet note about balloons from none other than Nathaniel Benson. Super swoon!
    • The next day Mattie and Grandfather set off for the country on a dilapidated old wagon with a farmer and his wife and baby.
    • As Matilda is bidding Eliza farewell, Grandfather appears dressed in his regimental jacket, ready for the trip. Everyone has a good laugh about this.
  • Chapter 11

    September 7th, 1793

    • As the wagon heads out of the city, Grandfather has a coughing fit. The farmer worries that the old man might have the fever. Grandfather loosens his jacket and all is well. (For now.)
    • Grandfather reviews the three fundamentals of soldiering with Mattie: sturdy boots, a full stomach, and good night's sleep.
    • Speaking of sleeping, Mattie nods off for a bit and when she awakens, the wagon is being stopped by four men on horses armed with muskets. They've been sent by the town council of Pembroke to keep the sick from passing through the town.
    • A doctor is with the men and examines the passengers. Everyone passes except for Grandfather who happens just then to have a coughing fit. Talk about bad luck. The doctor demands that they all return to the city
    • The farmer and his family say that they are healthy and should be allowed to pass. The doctor agrees. When Mattie and Grandfather protest, the leader of the group tells them that he must "take care of our own" (11.65).
    • Mattie and her grandfather are abandoned in the middle of the countryside.
  • Chapter 12

    September 8th, 1793

    • Struck with a case of the chills, Grandfather rests under a chestnut tree; meanwhile, Matilda makes a plan of action. First up? Water.
    • Matilda follows a line of willow trees to a small stream – "an old soldier's trick" (12.10).
    • After filling a canteen with water, Matilda looks around for food. Raspberry bushes! She collects some fruit with the plan to return with Grandfather, who would catch a rabbit for them to eat.
    • Matilda returns to Grandfather and shares the water and berries. He is feverish still, but his eyes aren't yellow. "Just a summer grippe," she thinks (12.16).
    • Grandfather starts blaming himself for their situation, calling himself a stubborn old fool. As he speaks, he seems to be drifting in and out of consciousness. At one point, he calls Matilda "Captain" (12.33).
  • Chapter 13

    September 10th, 1793

    • Mattie wakes up and sets off for the stream, followed by Grandfather's annoying parrot, King George.
    • On her walk, she contemplates what to do, beating herself up for not being stronger. King George squawks and flutters about her head.
    • At the stream, Mattie bathes and then turns her attention to food. More berries? No. Fish. She takes off her petticoat and fashions it into a net. With the unwieldy petticoat and King George fluttering above her head, though, she eventually crashes into the water. Not the best method for catching fish.
    • Mattie returns to Grandfather fishless, but with water. Though the heat is sweltering, he's somehow cold and shivering. Not a good sign.
    • Grandfather sends Mattie to find food and blankets from a farm. The first farmer she meets with shoos her away from his farmhouse, afraid that she has the fever.
    • Fortunately for Mattie, she finds a pear tree and picks the fruit to take back to Grandfather. Breakfast at last!
    • On the way back, Mattie starts feeling the heat and her hunger. And then her teeth start clattering together. And then all goes dark.
  • Chapter 14

    September 12th, 1793

    • Matilda awakens to the sound of voices. A man named Barney is trying to figure out whether or not she is dead. Another voice says that she's not ready for him yet.
    • Matilda drifts back into feverish dreams. In one, she's on a crowded, carriage-filled road with wild crashing horses. In another, she meets a troop of French soldiers marching in a meadow. Grandfather is there. He commands the troops to attack her.
    • Matilda jolts out of bed and realizes that she has had yellow fever and is in some kind of hospital. There are bodies around her in beds, but none of them are Grandfather or Mother. The orderlies are speaking French. She lapses back into sleep.
    • The next morning, Matilda wakes and meets Mrs. Flagg, who tells her that Grandfather is there and has fully recovered. Tough old soldier that he is, he was the one who carried her to the hospital! Impressive.
    • Grandfather visits Matilda's bed and proceeds to flirt with Mrs. Flagg. (Cad!)
    • Matilda learns that she's at Brush Hill, a mansion turned into a hospital for victims of yellow fever. Though the place has a bad reputation, Mrs. Flagg informs Mattie that the hospital has recently been taken over by Stephen Girard, a French "merchant, an importer, and a banker" who has set the hospital right (14.49).
    • Mrs. Flagg explains that the French doctors have a very different method of treating their patients. They oppose the bloodletting and purges recommended by doctors like Benjamin Rush and instead insist on bed rest.
    • Grandfather reveals that they have been gone from Philadelphia for five days. While Matilda was recovering, he rode back to their coffeehouse, which, he tells her, was locked up tight. Mother was nowhere in sight.
    • Grandfather speculates that Mother is probably with the Ludingtons in the country. He has already sent a letter to inquire after her.
    • Grandfather and Mrs. Flagg leave Mattie to rest.
  • Chapter 15

    September 22nd, 1793

    • As Matilda recovers at Bush Hill, she hears stories about the fever epidemic in Philadelphia: orphaned children, dying men, craven thieves, and the kindness of strangers. Matilda is thankful she hears no stories about a painter's assistant named Nathaniel or a cook named Eliza.
    • On the tenth day, Matilda is visited by the Dr. Deveze, a Frenchman who advises her to eat and rest.
    • Matilda is filled with questions, but Mrs. Flagg advises her simply to eat (mutton and bread! rice with boiled prunes!) – and concentrate on getting well.
    • Matilda is moved to the barn for the final stages of her recovery.
    • Grandfather keeps himself busy at Rush Hill – organizing the food deliveries, attending the committee meetings, flirting with Mrs. Flagg, and so forth. You know, important stuff.
    • As she recuperates, Matilda thinks of distant friends and family: Would Nathaniel be painting flowers for the Peale girls by now? Why hadn't Mother written to them? Did Eliza get sick?
    • A clerk informs Matilda that they've been unable to contact her mother; therefore, when she is released, she will be taken to an orphan house. Matilda protests. (Obviously.)
    • Grandfather steps in and says that he'll act as her guardian. Rather, "No kin of mine goes to an orphan house, not as long as I have breath in my body" (15.42).
    • Grandfather and Mattie plan to take a wagon into the city the next day. In the meantime, Grandfather gallantly continues his flirtation with Mrs. Flagg, the lady whom he's "promised to take to a ball one day" (15.47). What a charmer!
  • Chapter 16

    September 24th, 1793

    • Grandfather and Matilda bid farewell to Rush Hill and Mrs. Flagg. They ride into Philadelphia on a wagon with five children being sent to the orphanage.
    • Matilda sits next to Mrs. Bowles, a Quaker dressed in gray. The two make small talk and Matilda reveals that she'll be fifteen in December. Mrs. Bowles mentions that the orphan house could use an extra pair of hands.
    • Matilda is happy to be treated like an adult, but tells Mrs. Bowles that she must first think of her family – Grandfather and Mother.
    • Mrs. Bowles warns Matilda not to go venturing out into the Philadelphia streets (thieves, fever victims, no food in the markets).
    • The driver interjects that the post office is also closed down.
    • Mrs. Bowles and Matilda discuss the fate of one of the orphans in the wagon – Susannah. She'll probably be hired out as a servant or, since she's pretty, she may be able to find herself a husband. (So many options!)
    • Matilda decides that this is not the life she wants. At all.
    • The wagon arrives in Philadelphia and the city is a ghost town with dead bodies on the side of the streets. Mrs. Bowles mentions that most of the dead are being buried in the Potter's Field in mass graves. Matilda calls it "a field plowed by the devil" (16.49).
    • The wagon arrives at the orphan house. Mrs. Bowles and Matilda part ways.
  • Chapter 17

    September 24th, 1793

    • Matilda and Grandfather arrive at the coffeehouse to find it completely ransacked. Matilda runs upstairs to the bedrooms and, fortunately, everything is in its place.
    • Back downstairs, Grandfather is red in the face, and Matilda advises him to have a seat. Grandfather mentions that his arm goes "pins and needles from time to time" (17.16). Not a good sign.
    • Matilda realizes that she hasn't checked on the strongbox, the place where the coffeehouse's money is kept. Stowed in a hollow stair, the box – and all the money – is safe. Thank goodness!
    • Around this time, Silas the cat reappears through the back door with a yowl. At least there's one friendly face around here!
    • Grandfather goes to the mantle to hang his sword, but with his arms shaking, he has problems putting it in place. Mattie helps and then sends Grandfather upstairs to rest.
    • In the meantime, Mattie heads to the garden – now a wasteland – to find food. She waters what's left of the plants and manages to scavenge a few green beans, crook-neck squash, and a handful of sour cherries. (Yum?)
    • Back at the kitchen table, Mattie bows her head and prays, thanking God for keeping her alive and asking him to punish the intruders who destroyed the coffeehouse. She also asks God to take care of Mother and Eliza and Grandfather. And, of course, Nathaniel.
  • Chapter 18

    September 25th, 1793

    • The next day, Matilda decides that it's time for a bath – her first in ages. With the tub half full of water, she bathes, watching the water turn brown with all the dirt and grime.
    • With no clean clothes of her own, Matilda dresses herself in Mother's clothes: a "blue-and-white striped overskirt" and shift (18.12).
    • Matilda wakes Grandfather, who is as hungry as she is. Downstairs, Matilda throws together a soup with vegetables foraged from the garden: beans and turnips, seasoned with some of the kitchen herbs.
    • Grandfather bathes and Mattie spends the afternoon watering the garden. Digging around, she finds potatoes. Jackpot! Mattie does a celebratory potato dance.
    • For supper that night, Mattie cooks up the potatoes with turnips and a few beans. It's not much, but it's enough to ease the hunger pains.
    • Mattie decides to sleep downstairs that night to escape Grandfather's snoring. She leaves the shutters open, presumably to catch a breeze.
    • Mattie opens up Grandfather's Bible and dreams of having her own shop. She turns to Psalm 4:8: "I will both lay me down in peace, and sleep: for thou, Lord, only makest me dwell in safety" (18.43).
  • Chapter 19

    September 26th, 1793

    • Mattie dreams of food that night: roast beef, steaming potatoes, and a huge bowl of butter. Before she can take the first bite, though, she snaps awake. Footsteps. There's someone in the house.
    • Two burglars are prowling around the coffeehouse and Mattie overhears them planning to make off with the silver and pewter. They rummage through the furnishings, deciding which pieces are worth more.
    • The taller of the two thieves takes Grandfather's sword from off the mantle and brandishes it. Not seeing Mattie hiding in the dark, the thief comes close to hitting her. She screams.
    • The thieves realize someone is actually in the coffeehouse and start chasing Mattie. She bolts for the garden, but the tall thief catches her and carries her back to the house.
    • The tall thief tries to get Mattie to tell him where the strongbox and the silver are. She spits at him. He slaps her. She tells them there's nothing left at the coffeehouse to steal.
    • Grandfather appears in the doorway with a rifle. The short robber escapes out the window, but the taller one stands his ground, not afraid of the old man.
    • Grandfather fires at the guy but misses. The tall man jumps on Grandfather and attacks him. Mattie grabs Grandfather's sword and slashes at the thief's shoulder.
    • Mattie threatens to cut out the man's heart (wow!), and the robber finally flees.
    • Meanwhile, Grandfather is injured. Mattie begs him not to die, but sadly, this is exactly what happens. He does get to tell her he loves her, though.
    • Mattie's grief is enormous. She pounds the floor with rage. Then she composes herself and arranges Grandfather on the floor.
    • Mattie ties a napkin around Grandfather's jaw to keep his mouth closed. She leaves him in his nightshirt and covers him with a tablecloth. She spends the night by his side "praying that the morning would not come" (19.104).
  • Chapter 20

    September 27th, 1793

    • The next morning, Mattie realizes she'll have to bury Grandfather. Fighting back tears, she flags down the man pushing the cart for dead bodies and has him take Grandfather's body to the burial site. Mattie helps push the heavy cart.
    • At the burial square, two men wrap Grandfather's body in canvas and prepare to put him in the open grave. Mattie stops them and reads a prayer from the Psalms.
    • After the burial, Mattie wanders through the streets of Philadelphia and tries to decide what to do. Go to the orphan house? Return to Bush Hill? Hearing her stomach grumble, she decides food has to happen before she can make a decision.
    • The market, unfortunately, is completely empty because the fever's keeping the farmers away. Nothing to eat.
    • Matilda walks past the Federal Gazette office where she finds the printer Mr. Brown, a friend of Grandfather's.
    • Matilda asks to place an advertisement in the paper for her mother, Mr. Brown informs her that the paper is now being printed on half-sheets and there's no space except for orders from the mayor and physicians notices.
    • Mr. Brown and Matilda discuss the epidemic: he tells her that more than three thousand people are dead, "enough to fill house after house, street after street" (20.57). The only creatures living, he adds, are rats.
    • Matilda goes by the hat shop, but the Warners have gone away too. A passerby on the street tells Matilda that the family threw the dead body of their apprentice out on the street on their way out of town. Harsh.
    • Mattie wanders around the streets some more, and eventually decides that she has to get herself together. That's when she sees a small whimpering child with a broken doll in an open doorway.
    • The girl tells Mattie that her mother, like her doll, is also broken.
  • Chapter 21

    September 27th, 1793

    • The young child's name, Mattie learns, is Nell, and her mother is a victim of the fever. After knocking on a few doors, Matilda is advised by the neighbors to find the two women delivering care baskets from Reverend Allen's group. They'll know what to do with the kid.
    • As directed, Matilda heads to Fifth Street, south of Walnut. She catches a glimpse of a woman who she thinks she recognizes. Eliza?
    • Matilda and Nell try to follow the woman but get harassed by a drunk in front of a tavern. They're directed to the Simon house, and Matilda learns that members of the Free African Society have just delivered rolls there.
    • Back in the street, Matilda starts hollering Eliza's name. Eventually, someone answers from a window. Soon a door opens, and Mattie sees her friend Eliza.
  • Chapter 22

    September 27th, 1793

    • Reunited with Eliza, the enormity of all that has passed hits Matilda, and she lets herself have a nice big cry. (It helps.)
    • Night is falling, so Eliza takes Matilda to her brother Joseph's house, where Matilda meets Joseph and his two twin sons Robert and William.
    • Before they get there, though, Matilda gives Eliza the short version of the story about Grandfather's death. On a happier note, Eliza tells Matilda that Mother recovered from the fever and, as far as Eliza knows, was headed to the farm to meet Matilda and Grandfather.
    • At Joseph's house, Matilda meets Mother Smith, a tenacious elderly woman who's there to care for Joseph's sons. (His wife was a victim of the fever.) Mother Smith insists that Matilda eat to put some meat on those skinny bones.
    • Once everyone is asleep, Matilda tells Eliza the whole darn story: about getting abandoned in the country, the robbers, the burial, everything.
    • Eliza brings up Nell and explains that both Matilda and the little girl should probably go to the orphan house. Matilda begs Eliza not to make her go, and Eliza says they'll discuss the matter in the morning.
    • The two start stitching up the rips in Robert's and William's clothes as Eliza tells Matilda about everything going on at the Free African Society. Apparently Dr. Benjamin Rush had contacted Reverend Allen to recruit black people to help care for the fever patients – which they did with great success.
    • Unfortunately, Dr. Rush seemed to think that black people couldn't get yellow fever but, well, um, he was wrong. Many of Eliza's friends and acquaintances started to get sick. Turns out, no one is safe from the fever.
    • Matilda asks Eliza when it will all end. Eliza tells her that the fever will vanish the frost comes. They just have to hold out until then.
  • Chapter 23

    September 28th, 1793

    • Matilda wakes the next morning to find that Nell has wet the bed. Eliza suggests she wash the bedding (and the twins' sheets too), which Matilda does in the courtyard while the children watch.
    • While Eliza goes out to care for the sick, Mother Smith comes to care for the children. The tough old woman makes Matilda rewash the dishes and beat the rugs like crazy. Matilda thinks Mother Smith would get along with Lucille pretty darn well.
    • Before she leaves in the evening, Mother Smith warns Matilda not to start loving Nell. It would be cruel and hard for everyone. Though she hates the idea, Matilda realizes that Mother Smith is right.
    • The next day, Matilda and Eliza take Nell to the orphan house. The woman who answers the door is completely swamped with children.
    • The woman tells Matilda that the orphan house is better than the street, but asks if there's maybe someone who could keep Nell for the time being. The orphan house has become, in her words, "the house of last resort" (23.44).
    • Matilda, with Eliza's approval, decides to keep Nell with her. She's so happy she wants to dance.
    • On the way home, Eliza tells Matilda gossip about the Ogilvie family: the daughter Colette did indeed come down with fever, but she recovered. Great, right? Well, no. Unfortunately, her mother found out that she eloped with "Loueey!" her French tutor (23.62). Talk about a scandal. Matilda can't help but chuckle.
    • Nell stoops to pick up a flower, and Matilda notices daisies falling on the sidewalk from a second-story window. Matilda realizes that it's the painter Mr. Peale's house – the house where Nathaniel Benson is apprenticed! Could it be? Is it he?
    • Something crashes inside the house and the flowers stop falling. They all move down the street, Matilda's heart happy over the thought of Nathaniel sending her even more flowers.
    • Back home, Eliza becomes an official part of the family. Mother Smith moves on to help a family of eight that had just lost their mother, so Mattie is to help out at home – and at the Free African Society where Eliza works.
  • Chapter 24

    October 1st, 1793

    • Matilda begins helping Eliza care for fever patients, leaving the house at first light and working until dark.
    • Matilda isn't prepared for the intensity of what she witnesses: a dying woman surrounded by her children; a whole boarding house full of sick sailors, the stench unbearable.
    • At Barrett's apothecary, Eliza and Matilda buy supplies: jalap and Bohea tea. The prices, Eliza notes, have been gouged.
    • Eliza and Matilda spend the rest of the day caring for the Sharp family, and then move on to the Colbran house to wash the sickroom. As the day has been long, Eliza tries to send Mattie home, but Mattie insists on staying and working. The two then move on to the Gundy sisters.
    • Eliza and Matilda return home at last to find the unthinkable: the children – Robert, William, and Nell – have all fallen ill with the fever.
    • The rooms at Joseph's are hot and stuffy, so Matilda suggests taking the children to the coffeehouse.
  • Chapter 25

    October 14th, 1793

    • Eliza and Matilda use a mule cart sent by Mother Smith to transport the children to the coffeehouse.
    • Eliza and Matilda make a sickroom in the cool downstairs of the coffeehouse. They decide to leave the windows open since Eliza is armed with a knife and Matilda has Grandfather's sword. (Fierce!)
    • Unable to sleep, Matilda paces the room. She finds Nathaniel's flower painting and thinks of him. Also, of Mother. Is she still alive?
    • The next day, Eliza and Matilda begin the hard work of nursing the sick: fanning the children, hauling well water, and washing the bedding. "Night melted into day. Day surrendered to night" (25.27).
    • The supply of food and medicine begins to dwindle. Eliza suggests finding a doctor to bleed the children, and Matilda argues against it. She tells Eliza of the kinds of treatment at Bush Hill used by the French doctors. Eliza is reluctant but, in the end, relents.
    • The night drags on and Matilda goes outside to fetch more water. She's exhausted and nearly delirious. As a wind blows across her face, she shivers and falls asleep in the garden.
  • Chapter 26

    October 23rd, 1793

    • Matilda is woken up in the morning by Silas the cat lapping at her cheek. That, though, is no surprise compared with what she sees on the ground: frost!
    • Eliza stumbles outside and she and Matilda laugh and jump for joy, celebrating the coming of the cold weather. They bring the children outside to cool them down.
    • A messenger from Joseph soon arrives with more food. The farmers are back in town, thanks to the frost, and prices are dropping.
    • Eliza and Matilda move all of the furniture in the house outdoors so that the next night's frost will sterilize everything.
    • Joseph arrives the next day with news that the market has officially reopened. Joy! Matilda heads there to see if she can hear any gossip.
    • At the market, the stalls are overflowing and food is everywhere, not to mention the talk and the noise and the laughter.
    • Matilda runs into Mrs. Epler, the gossipy German egg seller, who generously gives her two fat hens. Mrs. Epler inquires after Matilda's mother, and Matilda tells her that she's missing. Mrs. Epler promises to ask around for her.
    • Matilda picks up vegetables and hard candy – "for the children," of course (26.53). Yeah, right.
    • Suddenly someone puts a hand on Matilda's elbow. Guess who? That's right. Nathaniel Benson. (Swoon!)
    • The two lovebirds exchange pleasantries and smile at each other like goons. Nathaniel offers to walk her home. On the way, he tells Matilda about the activities at the Peale house – how the family survived by eating Mr. Peale's taxidermy specimens. Gross!
    • In front of the coffee house, Nathaniel snatches an apple from Matilda's basket and tells her that, though things have changed in the city, some things never will: he'll "always snatch apples" from her basket (26.87). Aww. Cue the hearts and flowers.
    • Nathaniel predicts Matilda's mother will be home soon. The two say good-bye, and Matilda's thoughts turn to her mother.
  • Chapter 27

    October 30th, 1793

    • Nathaniel Benson becomes a constant visitor at the coffeehouse.
    • Those who had fled to the country started flowing back into the city all well-fed and bright-eyed. Matilda – gaunt and pale from the fever – is a little resentful.
    • Nathaniel and Matilda begin taking walks. One day, they visit Grandfather's grave. Grass has grown over the dirt. Nathaniel tells her not to worry about a headstone, and she agrees. Grandfather would have liked to be in a crowd with his friends, she tells him.
    • Eliza suggests a feast of thanksgiving, and everyone is invited: Joseph and the boys, Mother Smith, and Nathaniel.
    • At the meal, Mother Smith blesses the food. Later, Mother Smith also mentions that she knows Matilda's Mother will be back soon. She can feel it in her bones.
    • Joseph asks Matilda if she's selling the coffeehouse. This gives Matilda the opportunity to bring up the plan she's been hatching: she'd like Eliza to become her business partner. After a little prompting from Mother Smith, Eliza accepts.
    • Suddenly, there's a knock at the door. A messenger brings a bag of coffee beans and says that Jasper Blake's warehouse is open for business. This means that the Cook Coffeehouse will soon be open for business too – with Eliza and Matilda running the show.
  • Chapter 28

    November 10th, 1793

    • The coffeehouse opens and business is booming. Ever the entrepreneur (still), Mattie starts giving away free samples to boost sales. Nathaniel is on hand to help out with errands, and his paintings are now hung on the wall of the coffeehouse.
    • Mattie becomes pensive: everything seems to be just hunky dory, except she still misses Grandfather. And she doesn't know what has become of Mother.
    • Nathaniel bursts through the door and announces that President Washington is coming down High Street. Everyone rejoices and watches the procession. If government officials are returning to Philadelphia, the epidemic must really be over.
    • Matilda throws her arms around Nathaniel Benson and gives him a big kiss. Woohoo!
    • A caravan of wagons is following President Washington carrying people from the country. Mattie sees a frail woman dressed in country clothes: it's her mother.
  • Chapter 29

    November 10th, 1793

    • Matilda and her mother are reunited: they embrace and then Nathaniel introduces himself to Mrs. Cook. Everyone is shocked by Mother's thin, frail appearance.
    • In the kitchen, Mother, Matilda, and Mrs. Ludington catch up. Matilda tells them about Grandfather's death. Mother asks no questions, only looks into the fire.
    • Mrs. Ludington leaves and Mother asks again about Grandfather. She cries and tells Mattie how worried she's been. Mattie tells her about everything that happened since she and Grandfather went into the country all those ages ago.
    • Mattie takes note of Mother's withered hands. Mother asks Mattie to help her upstairs to rest.
  • Epilogue

    • Matilda wakes up to the sound of Silas pouncing on a mouse.
    • It's still dark outside and everyone else is asleep, but Matilda dresses and gets up to start the day.
    • Downstairs, she starts a new fire and puts the kettle on. Matilda makes coffee and sets out the breakfast dishes.
    • She carries her mug through the coffeehouse and adjusts the paintings on the wall – Nathaniel's paintings.
    • Matilda sits on the front steps and watches the sun rise, reflecting on those she has lost. Her mind lingers on Polly and Grandfather, and then? Time to get to work. The day has begun.