A half hour later, the train jerks to a final halt at the last platform.
"Frogpond Station," the speakers crackle one last time.
"Have a nice day," the conductor mumbles as she dismounts, impervious to the fact that it is still very much the night.
Clarisse waits until the train is far in the distance before she begins her trek.
"Walk south about five miles from Frogpond Station and you'll come to it sooner or later," her uncle told her. Unfortunately, he could not draw a map, for every last scrap of unmarked paper was removed from their house a long time ago.
Clarisse follows the road until it tapers into a gravel path, then a trodden one, and at last a clump of knee-high weeds. She kicks at them in frustration, but they only spring back up again. Well, what else to do? She lifts the hem of her dress up to her knees and plods on, even though she's awfully tired and somewhat thirsty. For two hours she continues, pushing through thick woods, wading across shallow streams and trudging through viscid mud. The moon sets under the horizon and the dark sky becomes alive with the first rays of dawn.
As she sweeps the last branches to the side, Clarisse almost gasps with astonishment. Before her is a field of strawberries, bright and refreshing in the morning light!
Could this be a dream? She wonders, pinching her arm with one hand, plucking a berry from a bush with the other. Strawberry season ended in August!
Vaguely, she remembers her mother telling her that, at the old house, berries grew until the first snow. She must be almost there!
She gathers up as many as she can in the folds of her dress and sits down, bringing one to her mouth. The sweet juice drips down her chin and she, smiling, remembers the years when they had a strawberry bush back in the city. Every summer, it bore delicious red fruit, until the dreadful day when it grew over the fence and was removed.
Wiping her mouth on her sleeve, Clarisse stands up and surveys the area. Judging by the fields, which were obviously sown by someone a long time ago, she cannot possibly be far from her new home now.
And then, she sees it. At first, it seems distant and surreal, like a mirage in the desert, but as she nears it, it begins to look much like described: wooden, two stories high, brown roof and shutters. Only when the old weathervane comes into view does she begin to run.
The door jars open welcomingly when she pushes it. Looking around, Clarisse's eyes tear up. It looks so much like her house back in the city! There is the cuckoo clock, and there is the fireplace, and there is the coffee table... the only thing that is really different is that this house has a porch. On it, four rocking chairs are arranged almost as if they were waiting for the McClellan family, after all those decades, to return.
Clarisse sits in the one closest to the field and takes a book out of her bag. Suddenly, she realizes how truly, impossibly ridiculous everything is, how she couldn't have ever, in a million years, imagined that she'd end up in a place as beautiful as this.
"Why, I'm free, I'm finally free!" she whispers, taking in a deep breath of the clean, fresh air.