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Matilda serves the coffeehouse’s customers, including her grandfather. She hears the men talking about a new disease in the city that could be yellow fever, and Matilda wonders to herself if that was what killed Polly. Grandfather dismisses the rumors about yellow fever, and the men begin arguing about politics instead.
A week has passed since Polly’s death, and more than sixty people in Philadelphia have died. Mother mentions to Grandfather that she’s thinking of sending Matilda to stay with the Ludington family in the country until the disease passes, but Grandfather protests, saying that the Ludingtons aren’t family and that she worries too much. Matilda goes to the market to get supplies for the coffeehouse and runs into a local painter’s apprentice, Nathaniel Benson, who teases and flirts with her. Matilda and Nathaniel briefly discuss Polly’s passing, but Matilda changes the subject when she starts to cry.
Grandfather discusses the idea of opening a new shop, but Matilda’s mother feels too concerned about the fever to think about business. A boy comes with a message for Mother from Pernilla Ogilvie, inviting Matilda and her mother to tea that afternoon. Mother is excited by the prospect of the wealthy Ogilvies’ son Edward as a potential match for Matilda. Matilda, however, feels no interest in Edward but agrees to go to tea.
The Cooks begin to react to the news about Polly in ways that reveal more about them. Lucille forbids Matilda from going to Polly’s funeral because Lucille’s instinct is to control and protect Matilda to save her from any pain. When she was young, Lucille eloped, was disowned, and then widowed, which reveals why she is overly protective of Matilda in general, but even more now that someone her age has died. Lucille’s grief and fear are obvious in these chapters, but even though Matilda can see this, she still resents Lucille’s overprotection. Matilda’s grandfather dotes on her with compliments and candy but also gives her practical advice and military training to ensure that she can survive any kind of hardship. Matilda appreciates that he treats her like an adult in this way, again showing that her main goal is to be seen as and treated as an adult by her family.
One of the main conflicts of Fever 1793 is Lucille’s attempt to thwart Matilda’s quest for freedom in favor of her own desires for Matilda’s future. Lucille’s life was made substantially harder by the consequences of her choice to marry a carpenter. Therefore, she steers Matilda from the same fate by warning her away from Nathaniel, a painter. However, Nathaniel symbolizes freedom to Matilda, just like watching Blanchard’s balloon and dreaming of Paris, topics she and Nathaniel discuss. Freedom, the opportunity to get away from work and wander the market with Nathaniel, allows Matilda to begin to process Polly’s death. Matilda pouts as Eliza and Lucille transform her appearance from laboring middle-class to high society, suggesting that to Matilda, issues like class are trivial compared to the life and death matters of yellow fever. Despite her feelings, Matilda does as her mother says, showing she still has a long way to go until she can assert her independence.