Octavian has never been able to figure out exactly why Mr. Gitney called for the pox party when he did—sure people were worried about smallpox, but word of the disease had only just reached Boston, so people weren't that worried yet.
Mr. Gitney had other reasons for the party, reasons Octavian could only guess at as the party occurred.
Whatever the reasons, Octavian as narrator tells us this whole thing ends up as a nightmare that ends the College for good.
Feeling some shivers of fear yet?
Now, back to the scene:
Cassiopeia and Octavian write the invitations out, and they're delivered around the countryside and city.
It's early spring, and everything's muddy.
Most of the guests are of the Gitney clan—the Young Men.
Most of them don't have anything to do because the War—especially the closing of the Ports—has stopped trade and therefore business.
Mr. Gitney and Mr. Sharpe prepare the house and order a bunch of good food and wine, plus a glass of pox spores for the vaccine.
An old slave is ordered to wax the floors in preparation for dancing; he puts a brush on one foot and a slipper on another in order to wax the floor.
Octavian watches the old man as he skates around the room silently for three hours.