Summary: Chapter Seventeen: September 24th, 1793

Matilda and Grandfather return to the coffeehouse. Once home, they see that while they were gone, robbers broke in and stole or destroyed many of their possessions. All of their food is gone, but the robbers failed to find the family’s hidden money. Grandfather goes to bed, and Matilda manages to find a few fruits and vegetables in the withered garden for her dinner. She sits down to eat and prays that Mother, Eliza, Grandfather, and Nathaniel will be okay. 

Summary: Chapter Eighteen: September 25th, 1793

Matilda wakes up early the next morning and boils water to bathe in. She wakes Grandfather and then spends the day looking for more food in the garden. At night, she decides to sleep downstairs in front of the open shutters to stay cool.

Summary: Chapter Nineteen: September 26th, 1793

Matilda wakes up in darkness to the sound of two men’s voices outside the window. She hears the men arguing over whether anyone is in the house. Matilda hides in the corner as the men break in and begin to steal what is left of her family’s possessions. When one of the men picks up her Grandfather’s sword and begins swinging it around, Matilda yells and then tries to escape when the men realize she is there. The men catch her and demand she tell them where her family’s money is. Grandfather wakes up due to the commotion and comes downstairs with his rifle. Grandfather fires the rifle, but one of the men attacks him. Matilda picks up the sword and stabs the man in the shoulder. The men leave after she threatens to kill them. Matilda goes to Grandfather, who had been knocked back by the blast of the rifle. He tells Matilda that he feels sorry to leave her but that his time has arrived, and then he dies.

Summary: Chapter Twenty: September 27th, 1793

Matilda brings Grandfather’s body out to a cart that will carry him to be buried in the mass grave. She follows the cart and gives a eulogy as he is buried. On her way home, Matilda comes across a young girl hiding the shadows of a doorway, crying.

Analysis: Chapters 17–20

As Grandfather and Matilda return to a distressed Philadelphia, Matilda still has hope and begins to show signs that she is ready to accept the challenges of adulthood. Matilda is able to find hope in small blessings like the fact that the strongbox is in its hiding place and the garden produced a small bounty despite its neglect. The healthy vegetables growing among the wreckage of the garden symbolize Matilda’s new life after yellow fever. Matilda’s prayers for the people she cares about further show her faith and optimism that she and her family can overcome this challenge together.  As Matilda tends to Grandfather and takes his sword from him to hang above the mantle, roles are reversed once more. In his failing health, Matilda becomes his protector.  Matilda notes when they have survived one day and one night, showing the precariousness of their situation. Things that seemed mundane only a few weeks ago, like bathing, caring for the garden, and cleaning the house, are small victories now. Matilda dresses in her mother’s garments, further symbolizing her growth into adulthood as she steps up to fill Lucille’s role.
Although she has matured greatly, Matilda is still in a transitional phase between childhood and adulthood. She shows naivete by leaving the first-floor window open in a dangerous city that already robbed her once, and this decision produces terrifying results. As looters enter the home and rummage through her belongings and eventually attack her, Matilda’s main concern is protecting Grandfather. She fights back, showing her survival instincts and internalization of Grandfather’s lessons. After the attack, she feels more like a child than ever because she couldn’t save her grandfather, but instead of allowing her grief to take over, she proves mature and resourceful in tragedy by preparing his body as she has seen done. The impersonal burial of Grandfather is too much for Matilda to take and sparks her determination to act. Instead of complaining that there is no priest, she initiates a prayer, which momentarily unites the gravediggers in the memory of burial rituals from pre-epidemic times. As young as she is, Matilda’s grace and strength inspire the grown men who have grown numb from suffering, illustrating her growing power to affect the world around her and her transition to adulthood.