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Summary Chapter 23


Martin meets gentlemen on the steamboat whose company he enjoys. They help disentangle him from Mrs. Hominy. Martin is grateful to have Mark—even though his determination to be cheerful in bleak circumstances can be annoying, and he is a little too outspoken for his own good. However, Mark is good at inspiring hope and courage.

The scenery gets more wild and desolate as the steamboat journeys down the river. The boat starts to empty as the passengers disembark on stops along the way. The remaining people on board are cheerless and quiet. Mrs. Hominy gets off at the stop before Eden. Martin is shocked to find out that the few buildings he sees make up the town New Thermopylae. Mrs. Hominy and her husband both state that it is more developed than Eden. Martin becomes uneasy after hearing this.

They finally arrive at a swampy place that consists of a few log cabins in bad repair and a crude shed. A local man greets them, saying that the air is poisonous with the fever. He has been ill himself. Mark asks if there is anyone who can help them carry their goods. The man says his son is ill. Mark tells Martin to leave the things—it is unlikely anyone will take them. The local man agrees—they have either buried thieves or they have left.

The local man turns out to be their neighbor. He tells them he has been using their house to store his corn, but he’ll remove it tomorrow. He also tells them that he buried the last tenant of the house. The house has no door.

Martin starts crying. Mark begs him not to do that. It does no good. Martin apologizes but can’t help it. Mark comments on all the food they have—they will have a gipsy party. Martin cheers up a little.

That night, both have a hard time falling asleep. They worry about animals and humans in the darkness. They finally fall asleep. Mark wakes up before Martin and goes to the stream to bathe. He surveys the area. Most of the cabins are uninhabited and in disrepair. The forest is dense.

Men help Mark carry their belongings to the cabin. Most are ill. Those who were able to leave did. Those who stay gradually watch their families die from the fever.

Martin is awake when Mark returns. He is pale, complaining of weakness and pain, his eyesight is dim, and his voice is feeble. Mark takes a door from a deserted house to put on their cabin. He also takes a bench. He unpacks and organizes their belongings. He hangs up a sign on their house advertising their business. He goes to cut down a tree for the stove.

Martin wonders what he has done to deserve this. Mark tells him to do something so that he will feel better. Mark suggests writing a letter to Mr. Scadder, but Martin doesn’t have the heart to. Mark fears Martin is ill. Martin tells Mark to save himself and apologizes for bringing him here. He is certain he is doomed to die here. This confirms to Mark that he is ill. Mark tells him they merely have to adapt to the environment.

Mark goes off to ask one of the neighbors what they can take that is medicinal to the maladies Martin is suffering from. He reflects that he will never find a better situation that will challenge him to be jolly than this—and he better rise up to it.

Charles Dickens