Leaving the house is so easy that Winnie is shocked. No one stirs as she goes to the gate and she feels even guiltier that she has taken advantage of their trust. However, she knows there is no other way. Leaving her house is like leaving something real and moving into a dream. Jesse is there waiting and as they go by the jail, there is the gallows set up in the yard like a great L. As she meets up with the Tucks, she is reminded of a poem: Stone walls do not a prison make,/Nor iron bars a cage. They seem to be her mantra to give her courage. Miles begins to pry out the nails, one at a time, until they are all free. Now he must pull the window and the bars out without waking the Constable. He times it just right, pulling mightily just as thunder breaks. It takes two pulls, but the storm protects him. They pull chubby Mae through with some effort and then, one by one they kiss her and Winnie wonders if it’s rain on their faces or tears. Jesse is the last to bid her good-bye and whispers as he pulls away from their hug a single word, “Remember!”
Then, Miles lifts her into the window and she waits to hear him replace the nails. But when she grabs the bars and looks out, the yard is empty. For a moment, she thinks she hears the tinkling little melody of the music box. Her darling Tucks are gone.
The quote that Winnie remembers repeatedly is by Richard Lovelace and was written to his love while he was in prison. It gives Winnie courage to do what she must, because the Tucks are the ones she loves. They silently leave her with memories and Jesse’s whisper, “Remember!”
As this chapter opens, August is long over and the wheel has begun its downward spiral, bringing with it the changeless sweep of change. Mae and her family had not been found and Winnie is profoundly grateful. She will never forget that night and how in the end the gallows had been blown over by the wind. She also will never forget the Constable’s face when he came in with Mae’s breakfast that morning and discovered Winnie. He called her an accomplice and swore he would take her into custody. Her parents had asked over and over why she had done it, and it took her tearful admission against her mother’s shoulder that she had done it, because they were her friends to make her family finally understand. They drew staunchly around her, faced the accusations of the village, and held their heads high. Of course, she was confined to the yard indefinitely, but the other children were impressed with what she had done and had stepped forward to be her new friends.
Now as she sits in the grass of the yard against the fence, two things happen: the Toad appears on her side of the road for the first time, and then, a large brown dog lopes up toward it as if to eat it. Winnie becomes panicked that the Toad will be killed and reaches as far through the bars as she can and snatches up the Toad just in time. Then, impulsively, she runs up the stairs to her room and grabs the bottle Jesse had left. Slowly and carefully, she pours the entire thing over the Toad to save him from death. She is sure if she needs it that she can find more when she turns seventeen. Then she sets the Toad free with the words, “You’re safe! Forever!”
It is ironic that the storm blows over the gallows, because the storm brings change to the hot days of August, and the gallows are blown away, because they would have brought a terrible change to the world. Winnie’s decision to make the Toad immortal is a touching one, indicating that she understands his role in these last few weeks, and she is grateful to him for what he helps teach her. It also is indicative that she is not completely sure she wants immortality even though it means giving up Jesse. She has until she is seventeen to make the decision, and there’s plenty of water in the spring.
The Tucks have returned to Treegap, but it is obviously many years after the events of Winnie’s August days. There are many changes in the village including cross streets and lines down the middle of them. The wood is completely gone, not a tree left and so is Winnie’s cottage. There is a gas station where the attendants chuckle at the Tucks in their horse-drawn wagon. There are many more businesses and a larger jailhouse. A black and white police car sits in front of it. They impulsively decide to stop for a cup of coffee at the diner to see if anyone knows anything. The counterman tells them that the wood was destroyed by a big electrical storm. A big tree in the middle was hit by lightning and set other trees on fire. They had to bulldoze everything out. Both Mae and Angus exchange meaningful glances.
Then, Mae goes shopping for supplies while Angus searches for the local cemetery. He sees an imposing monument, slightly tipped now, with the name Foster carved into it and a few smaller gravestones standing around it. He finds one that makes him kneel with sadness. It says, “In loving memory/Winifred Foster Jackson/Dear Wife/Dear Mother/1870-1948.” He murmurs to himself that she has been gone for two years. He stands and makes a brief salute towards the stone and says aloud, “Good girl!” When he tells Mae that Winnie is gone, Mae says, “Poor Jesse,” to which Angus responds that they have known she wasn’t coming for a long time. Mae closes it all out with the comment that there was no need for them to come back there anymore. As they begin to roll away, Mae calls out to her husband to be careful of the Toad. He stops the wagon and picks it up and puts it back in the weeds with the comment, “The durn fool must think it’s going to live forever.” Soon they are rolling on again, the tinkling little melody of a music box drifting behind them.
The Epilogue does its job well by tying up all the loose ends. So much change has come to Treegap in the years between 1880 and 1950 that the Tucks almost don’t recognize it. The Ferris wheel has continued to roll on for everyone but the Tucks. The wood is gone; bulldozed over and so is the spring, which is a relief to the Tucks. They will never have to worry again that anyone will drink from it.
Winnie is also gone, having made the decision, perhaps because of all that Angus had told her in the rowboat, to not drink from the spring. There is no way to tell if she ever regretted her choice, but the tombstone shows that she lived a full life as a wife and mother, something she never would have been able to experience if she had chosen the water. Angus’ salute to her is twofold: he honors her for helping them all those years ago, and he honors her for choosing the cycle of life over immortality.
Finally and ironically, the Tucks come across a little Toad that doesn’t seem to be afraid of their wagon or even the cars that speed by and nearly hit it. Angus’ comment that it must think it’s going to live forever is ironic as well, because this is Winnie’s Toad and he is going to live forever.
It is a perfect ending to a wonderful story that the final words to the reader are about the tinkling of the music box. They are a tie that binds all the thoughts, ideas, and characters of this story together.