Cold Mountain: Chapters 13-14
Summary, Chapter Thirteen (“bride bed full of blood”), pp. 235-254
After Inman leaves the goat woman, he wanders until his food runs out. He catches a glimpse of himself in a stream as he bends to eat water cress, and he sees how wild he has become, even sinister-looking. Inman meets a man who takes him down the road to a woman who might be able to give him food.
Inman finds a lone cabin inhabited by a young but grim woman and her infant daughter. The woman, Sara, agrees to share what food she has and trustingly invites him inside. Inman cannot help but notice that the cabin is sparsely furnished; the only ornamentation is an unusual quilt depicting mythical beasts in earth tones.
As Inman eats, he finds out that Sara’s husband John was killed in the war. She seemed fiercely determined to survive alone, but Inman can see that her chance for success is slim. With little emotion, she offers Inman her husband’s clothing, and she apologizes for not having a barn for him to sleep in. Federal raiders burned it when they took her cow and killed her dog during the summer.
Inman settles into the corn crib for the cold night, but soon Sara asks him to come inside and do her an unusual favor. She asks him to simply lie in bed with her, “but not do anything else” with her. Inman agrees; he can see that she is desperately heartbroken under her strong façade. He listens as she grieves for her husband and then bravely speaks about the hog she counts on to get her through the winter. When she touches his scar before she falls asleep, Inman, too, realizes how long it has been since anyone touched him tenderly. Although he is tired, Inman cannot sleep. His dreams are filled with the beasts from Sara’s quilt.
The next morning, Sara shakes him awake and says that riders are approaching. Inman scrambles out the back and watches as three Federals tie up Sara and refuse to give her baby to her until she tells them where her money is hidden. When they finally understand that she has no money, only a hog, they take the hog and her chickens and ride away.
Inman follows the Federals and one by one kills them in the woods. He realizes that he feels very little after killing the men; next to the horrors he’s seen in war, three dead men are nothing. Still, he knows he will not want to talk about what he has done.
Inman returns to Sara with the hog and her remaining chicken, and they slaughter the hog together. Inman cleans up, using John’s razor and mirror, and he contemplates how his face is that of a killer, although he still holds hope that that is not his true face.
After he and Sara share another meal, Sara sings to her baby. Her songs are folkloric tunes full of death and murder, such as a “bride bed full of blood,” and her small voice against the darkness seems utterly brave to Inman. Despite the mournfulness of Sara’s singing, Inman feels a strange, tired contentment in such companionship.
Summary, Chapter Fourteen (“a satisfied mind”), pp. 255-272
Ada finds that, despite the hard work of a farm, she is more content than she has ever been. The demanding, yet basic tasks of picking apples or splitting firewood give her a satisfying sense of accomplishment. As Ada sits before a burning brush pile on a chilly evening, she marks where the sun sets. She realizes that she will always be a fixed point as the seasons wheel by, and this thought anchors her. She pictures cutting trees on the hill to make notches, like those in a sun dial, by which she can follow the sun’s movement.
As Ada sits before the fire awaiting Ruby’s return from a trading mission, she is surprised to see Stobrod appear, this time with a companion. He brings a mentally impaired man named Pangle from the outliers’ camp.
Ruby is not pleased to find Stobrod and his friend when she returns, but she does not chase them off, either, and simply sets about preparing a brisket in the coals of the fire. Stobrod and Pangle play fiddle and banjo music for the women, and Ada finds the music more moving than any opera, quivering with feeling and truth.
At the end of the playing, Stobrod tells Ruby that he needs help if he is to detach himself from the outliers, who have formed a brotherhood of thieves. He asks her to provide food and shelter. Ruby tells him to rough it, just like she had to do all those times he left her to forage and find shelter on her own. She stalks off without giving Stobrod an answer.
Later, left to herself, Ada wraps in a blanket and watches a lunar eclipse. Looking at the sky thick with stars reminds her of looking down the Swangers’ well and feeling dizzy. A line from one of Stobrod’s songs comes to her mind: “Come back to me is my request.” The line is so simple, yet so expressive, so much better than anything Ada has read in literature. “Come back to me is my request,” she writes in a letter to Inman. Just that, and nothing else.
Analysis, chapters 13 and 14
The old folkways, particularly music, continue to offer characters a grip on the old world in chapters thirteen and fourteen. The rural life is shown in sharp juxtaposition to the metal face of the new world taking over the South.
In “bride bed full of blood” Sara’s gruesome folksongs capture the “despair, resentment, and an undertone of panic” she feels because the war has shattered her life. Her only hope of survival is in the old farm ways. Her bravery and generosity mask a silent fury that Inman recognizes in himself. The sense of injustice he feels when the raiders bully Sara again awakens violence in him. Those men represent the new world with its machinery of hate and destruction; Sara represents the struggling old world. Inman cannot, to paraphrase the captive’s words in chapter eight, let the new world stand long, and so he kills the soldiers to protect Sara. The contentment that he and Sara share after such violence is tenuous, for the new world still remains.
That the old ways are still powerful, however, is evident in chapter fourteen. Ada has at last achieved “a satisfied mind.” Both Ada and Black Cove stand in stark contrast to Sara and her dilapidated farm. The war has not touched Black Cove as it has Sara’s place, and Black Cove, as well as Cold Mountain, remain grounded in the past. There is a pagan echo in the bonfire Ada sets, in the way she wishes to mark the sun’s progress, in the lunar eclipse she observes, in the sound of Stobrod’s fiddle in the darkness. Ada has, at last, become untangled from the “pose and irony” of her previous life. The old, simple words of Stobrod’s song now speak for her as she writes to Inman, “Come back to me is my request.”