Summary: Chapter Twenty-One: September 27th, 1793

Matilda learns that the young girl hiding in the shadows is named is Nell and that Nell’s mother died of yellow fever. Matilda carries Nell as she knocks on neighbors’ doors to ask about who might be able to care for Nell. However, no one knew anything about Nell’s family, and no one could afford to take Nell in. When she sees two Black women walking ahead of her, she thinks one of them is Eliza and follows them. Matilda is able to track the women down and reunites with Eliza. Eliza asks what Matilda is doing back in Philadelphia and where she found Nell. 

Summary: Chapter Twenty-Two: September 27th, 1793

Eliza brings Matilda and Nell back to her brother’s house, where she lives. There, Eliza explains that Mother had recovered from yellow fever and, the last time Eliza saw her, was determined to get to the Ludingtons’ farm to reunite with Matilda and Grandfather. Eliza explains that her brother, Joseph, lost his wife to the fever and then introduces Matilda to Joseph’s sons, Robert and William. Once the children are sleeping, Matilda tells Eliza what she has been through. Eliza explains that she has been volunteering with the Free African Society to care for patients of yellow fever because doctors believed that Black people could not catch the fever. However, Eliza notes that Black people have begun getting sick as well. She adds that they just need to make it until the first frost, which everyone believes will kill the fever.

Analysis: Chapters 21–22

Matilda has learned the importance of family and the depth of how difficult life can be, and while all seems lost when Grandfather dies, the appearance of Nell teaches Matilda that the definition of family can be broad. Matilda is at her lowest point when she meets Nell, wandering the streets and losing hope, but Nell gives her a reason to push on. As Grandfather’s time in Matilda’s life ends, Nell’s begins, a nod to the circle of life theme that runs throughout the novel. Although Matilda can barely care for herself at this point, she is motivated to seek help now that she is in a caretaker role. Always resourceful, she remembers the crucial work of the Free African Society and seeks them out, reuniting with Eliza. Through Eliza, Matilda connects with Joseph, his sons, and Mother Smith, all of whom accept Matilda as family. Without realizing it, Matilda is building a new extended family in the wake of the loss of her grandfather and mother.