Four years later, Abigail Kirk is nearly eighteen years old, and the Kirk family has returned to Sydney after living abroad in several countries for the last few years. As Abigail, Kathy, and Weyland step into their old apartment unit, they notice that it has grown grubbier over the years. Abigail thinks the place looks somehow smaller and larger at the same time, and wonders if she, too, has changed in odd ways over the years. As she considers herself in the bathroom mirror, she notes that her cheeks have thinned and her hair has lightened over the course of the “curious” past four years.
The time jump is a narrative tool that allows readers to see how Abigail has, long-term, processed the events that occurred in her fourteenth year. As Abigail returns to the place she once called home, she feels that it has changed—but then considers that maybe it is just she herself who is different.
For the first year after her return from the past, Abigail’s memories of the Bow family were “bitterly real” and caused her grief and longing, especially when she considered Judah and his awful fate. Even if she could never share a life with him, she’d wanted him to have a beautiful one. Abigail would try and convince herself, in her lowest moments, that she had dreamed the whole thing, though she knew it was not so.
When she was forced to face the pain of her great losses, Abigail found herself retreating into old behaviors—attempting to distance herself form pain or discomfort by denying the connection she had with the thing causing her sadness. This had worked for years back when Abigail tried to ignore her father; but with the Bows, she could not sever the cord.
Abigail tells her mother that she’s going to go next door and see if the Crowns still live there. She rings the doorbell and is surprised when Vincent, now much taller and probably ten or eleven years old, opens the door. She asks him if he remembers her, and he smiles happily, revealing that he does. Justine is happy to see Abigail, too—Abigail asks after Natalie, and Justine tells Abigail that Natalie is out shopping with someone called Robert, as today is her eighth birthday. Abigail worries aloud that Natalie won’t recognize her. Vincent goes off to practice piano, and Justine expresses to Abigail her relief that Vincent has calmed down over the last several years, largely in part due to his fascination with music.
Abigail seeks out her old friends the Crowns, demonstrating her need for connection in the slightly disorienting and perhaps even painful moment of return to the place where she grew up. Abigail realizes how much she has changed, and wants to see if everything else around her has changed too—this shows that she now has a vested interest in connecting with things from her past, as opposed to the start of the novel, when she was ambivalent at best about them.
Abigail tells Justine that she thought her husband’s name was Bill, and asks who Robert is—Justine answers that Robert is her younger brother, and at twenty, is Natalie’s favorite uncle. Justine asks Abigail to tell her about all the affairs she must have had with “glamorous” Norwegian men, and Abigail coyly admits that she has had a few. A few minutes later, the doorbell rings, and Natalie rushes in with all of her parcels—the second she spots Abigail, though, she shrieks with delight and drops them on the ground, embracing Abigail and telling her that she would know her anywhere.
The fact that Abigail admits to having had relationships with boys while she was abroad speaks to the transformative power of her first love. With the Bows, Abigail opened herself up to love, and over the course of the past four years, she has apparently nurtured this part of herself in a way she never did before. As a result, she seems to have had at least a few meaningful romantic connections with people.
As Abigail hugs Natalie, she wonders whether Natalie truly remembers their time together. Just then, Natalie leans in and whispers to Abigail, asking if she remembers the little furry girl, who was always their little secret. There is a fumbling at the door, and Natalie exclaims that it’s Robert, with the rest of her birthday presents. Justine goes to open the door and a tall young man walks in—upon seeing him, Abigail fears she might faint. He looks and sounds almost exactly like Judah, and for a moment, Abigail is afraid that everything is starting again—that she is returning to the past.
When Abigail sees Justine’s brother for the first time, she is seized with amazement and a tinge of fear. She is so struck by the resemblance between Robert and Judah that she does not have time to consider a logical explanation for the resemblance, and instead believes for just a moment that she is again being taken into the past.
The Crowns converse with one another casually, and then Justine introduces Abigail to the young man—her brother, Robert Bow. The young man, upon meeting Abigail’s eye, exclaims, “Abby!” but instantly turns red and seems taken aback by his own forwardness. He apologizes, and tells Abigail that for just a moment he thought he knew her.
The fact that Robert, too, reacts strangely in Abigail’s presence speaks to the, uncanny, unexplainable connections that echo through time. It’s almost as if he is a reincarnation of Judah, who still has vague memories of Abigail.
While Natalie opens her presents with Vincent and her mother, Robert and Abigail talk with one another. Abigail can hardly focus on Robert’s words, though—she is too overcome with relief, believing that Judah lived after all. She wishes she could reach out and stroke Robert’s cheek, but she remembers that he does not know all that she knows. She realizes that Justine’s maiden name must be Bow, as well. She coyly tells Robert that she knew some Bows once, and befriended a Bow named Judah. Robert exclaims that his own middle name is Judah.
As Abigail gets her bearings back and attempts to figure out what is going on, she is quickly overcome with joy. She believes that Judah did get to live the life he so cherished after all, and this cheers her; moreover, she is drawn to Robert, who she believes is a descendant of Judah’s. She goes so far as to flirt teasingly with him about her strange history with the Bow family, a secret she has seemingly revealed to no one else.
As Robert and Abigail converse, she finds it easy and natural to talk to him. Robert tells Abigail that he is in a marine engineering course, and has a feeling that his ancestors came from Shetland, and that the sea is in his genes. Abigail corrects him, telling him the Bows are from Orkney. Before she leaves, Robert asks Abigail if he can come by and see her, and she tells him that he can—she’s right next door.
Robert’s affection for the sea again serves to cement the strange echoes of the past through the years. Robert and Abigail are clearly drawn to one another, and make plans to see each other again.
When Abigail returns to her own apartment, her mother asks her who she has met over at the Crowns’ who has given her such a look on her face. She tells Kathy that she has met a young man named Robert, and he’ll be coming by on Saturday to look over a family tree with her.
Whereas Abigail once cultivated a stony exterior that let no one see how she was feeling inside, in this passage her mother is able to read her like a book, showing that Abigail has become less guarded and more open.
On Saturday, Robert arrives with his family Bible in hand. As the two of them sit down to begin, Abigail notices the small ways in which he looks, after all, quite different from Judah. They open the Bible, and Robert tells Abigail that the book belonged to “some old great-great aunt” who was the headmistress at a school in Sydney—the aunt had “petrified” Robert’s mother. Abigail is delighted, knowing that Beatie “made it” after all. Robert seems confused, and Abigail promises him that after they have looked over the family tree, she will explain things to him a little bit—the rest, she tells him, will have to wait until they know each other “lots better.” Robert responds that if he has anything to say about it, they’ll know each other well very soon.
Robert and Abigail have an almost dizzyingly intense connection, which has fallen upon both of them fast as lightning. As they connect over the Bow family history, Abigail is relieved to realize that her tough and beloved Beatie did after all fulfill her dreams and become a successful scholar. As the pieces of the puzzle begin to come together for Abigail, she is still afraid to confess everything to Robert, but teases that she has information to share.
In the kitchen, Robert opens the Bible to a page bearing the Bow family tree. Abigail, without looking at it, immediately asks where Robert’s great-grandfather, Judah is on it—Robert replies that Judah is only a family name, and his great-grandfather’s name was Samuel. Abigail insists that Samuel was Beatie and Gibbie and Judah’s father. Robert points out Gilbert Samuel Bow, who, according to the dates on the tree, lived a long and healthy life. Abigail realizes that Judah must have drowned, after all, and that Robert is descended from Gilbert. Abigail begins sobbing, and Robert puts his arms around her, in no way put off by Abigail’s tears and ramblings about the Bow children.
Abigail is shocked and saddened to realize that Judah did not live, after all. Gibbie, who had been assumed by not just Abigail but all of the Bows to be the one who would die at a young age, ultimately was the one to carry on the Bow family name, and most important of all, the Gift. When Abigail saved Gibbie from the fire almost as an afterthought, she was really fulfilling her destiny.
Robert asks Abigail to calm down and tell him how she knows so many things about his family—things even he doesn’t know—and then kisses away her tears. Abigail tells him everything that happened, and is relieved to find that Robert listens to her quite seriously. When she’s done with her tale, Robert insists that Natalie must have had something to do with everything that happened—after all, she is a Bow, he says, and is perhaps in possession of the legendary Gift. Abigail realizes that Granny’s Prophecy was right in some ways and wrong in others—Granny assumed that Gibbie would die and Beatie would be barren, when really it was “Judah for death, and Dovey for barrenness.”
As Abigail realizes that she was indeed successful in carrying out her role as the Stranger—though not necessarily in the precise way she thought—she is overwhelmed by the fact that a Bow, and perhaps the last remaining Bow with the Gift, was living right next door to her for so many years. This passage shows the complex and unpredictable nature of time and legacy, and how the past can endure in suprising ways.
Robert points out, however, that Dovey—or Dorcas, as he knows her—wasn’t barren—she had a child named Judith, but it died alongside Dovey and Granny during a smallpox outbreak. Abigail marvels aloud that getting Gibbie out of the fire, more than Dovey, was important to carrying on the Bow line. As Abigail rants on and on, she pauses, and tells Robert that she is amazed that he believes her. Robert confesses that he experienced a strange sensation the moment he met her, as if he’d always known her.
Abigail and Robert seem to connect more and more deeply by the second as they tear through and piece together the Bow family history. Abigail is amazed by the strange twists and turns that the Prophecy took, and mesmerized by all the things that happened to the Bows which she never knew about.
Abigail spends a quiet moment thinking about Granny Tallisker and her “infinite goodness and strength.” Abigail sees now, too, that time is not a “great black vortex down which everything disappear[s].” Time, Abigail realizes, is a great river—always changing, but the same water flowing from source to sea.
Kathy comes into the kitchen and asks Abigail what she and Robert are up to. Abigail coyly replies that they are “just playing Beatie Bow.” Though her mother doesn’t understand, it doesn’t matter—Robert does.
Robert and Abigail have a deep, meaningful, and private connection, born out of their mutual link to the history of the Bows and the sense of reverence for and duty to the same legacy.