With her coat and boots, Niamh walks through the snow in the night. Out in the open woods, she feels safer than she did with the Grotes. She decides that she will walk to the school. She tells herself that she is testing her limits, as her Da told her it is important to do once in a while. She wishes she had seen “what was in front of [her]” and been more distrusting, like Dutchy was. Exhausted, she arrives at the schoolhouse after walking four miles over several hours. She enters the back porch, finds a wool blanket, and curls up asleep on the floor.
In a dangerous situation with no clear way forward, Niamh’s resolve to make it through the snow to the schoolhouse shows her determination to survive. She draws strength to keep going from the memory of her Da’s words. This connects to Vivian’s description in the prologue of her “ghosts” as people from her past who urge her to “go on.” She now sees Dutchy’s skepticism as a tool that perhaps could have protected her.
A little while later, Mr. Post wakes Niamh. After his initial surprise, he takes her inside, starts a fire, and gives her new blankets, asking no questions. Miss Larsen then arrives, and startled to see her. After Mr. Post leaves, she tells Niamh to “tell [her] what happened.” Niamh tells her the truth about everything, from the Grotes’ uncared for children to Mr. Grote’s violation. Miss Larsen holds Niamh’s hand the entire time. Afterward, Miss Larsen makes tea and gives Niamh a biscuit. Niamh tells her about Mr. Sorenson and Miss Larsen says she will send Mr. Post to contact him. Niamh timidly asks if she could live with her. Miss Larsen smiles and apologetically explains that she lives in a boarding house, but that she promises to help Niamh find a home where she is “treated like a ten-year-old girl.” The other children soon arrive, and Miss Larsen begins her class.
In contrast with the cruel treatment by the Grotes, Mr. Post and Miss Larsen’s kindness reaffirms Niamh’s right to a safe, warm place and her basic needs. Miss Larsen listens to and believes Niamh’s experiences, and so for the first time since Niamh was separated from Fanny, her suffering is validated by an adult. By taking care of Niamh’s needs and arranging next steps, Miss Larsen relieves Niamh of the adult burden of strategizing for her own survival. Her promise to find Niamh a place where she is “treated like a ten-year-old girl” shows her understanding that Niamh has been expected to manage adult-sized burdens.
When Mr. Post returns a while later, Miss Larsen pauses her lesson to speak with him privately. Then they call Niamh outside to the porch. Miss Larsen seems upset. Mr. Post gently explains that Mr. Sorenson isn’t sure of Niamh’s story and will need to hear it directly from her. When Niamh realizes they mean that he doesn’t believe her, she feels “the wildness of revolt” for “the first time in [her] life.” She tells them she “won’t go back there.” Miss Larsen assures her that she won’t let her go back to the Grotes. Mr. Post arranges for Mr. Sorenson to come in person. That afternoon, Niamh’s classmate, Lucy, holds Niamh’s hand but asks her no questions.
Miss Larsen’s anger and promise not to let Niamh “go back there” show that she has become personally invested in Niamh’s wellbeing. Niamh feels the “wildness of revolt” because she has no energy or patience left to suffer any further injustice. After tolerating the loss of her parents and the cruelty of the Byrnes and the Grotes, she can tolerate no more. Lucy’s quiet gesture, though, reveals the community of caring people Niamh has found at the school.
When Mr. Sorenson arrives, he meets with Miss Larsen and Niamh on the back porch. After Niamh finishes telling her story, Mr. Sorenson reaches to “pat her knee” but stops himself. He then suggests that her delirium from the cold affected her perception. He claims that young girls are dramatic and that “Dorothy,” influenced by her difficult childhood, likely “[blew] things out of proportion.” He agrees that the Grotes’ home isn’t ideal, but reminds Niamh that “the world is not a perfect place” and that those who “rely on the charity of others” can’t “complain.” He then proposes giving the Grotes another try. Miss Larsen angrily reminds Mr. Sorenson that Niamh was almost raped and that the Grotes threw her into the cold. He backs down, but argues that no other homes are available. Miss Larsen offers to keep Niamh for a few days, while Mr. Sorenson agrees to pursue another arrangement. Niamh is delighted.
Mr. Sorenson’s instinct to pat Niamh’s knee suggests that he wishes to comfort her—but his refusal to believe her shows that his sympathy is entirely superficial. His horrifying comments reveal beliefs in misogynistic myths about rape, such as the idea that girls often imagine and embellish events. Further, his remark that those who “rely on the charity of others” shouldn’t “complain” implies an underlying suggestion that poor or orphaned children inherently have fewer rights, and thus less value, than more privileged children. His reminder that the world “isn’t a perfect place” is then tragically redundant, given that his audience is a young girl who already knows that truth all too well.