At the first light of dawn, flies began gathering around Inman's eyes and the long wound in his neck. Their touch woke him immediately. He brushed them away and looked across to the big window that faced his bed. During the day, he could see to the red road and the low brick wall. And beyond them to the fields and woods that stretched away to the west. But it was too early still for such a view, and only a gray light showed.
Inman rose and dressed and sat in a straight-backed chair, putting the shadowy room of beds and broken men behind him. Once again he looked through the window. It was as tall as a door, and he had imagined many times that it would open onto some other place and let him walk through and be there. During his first weeks in the hospital, when he had hardly been able to move his head, he had at least been able to watch out the window and picture the old green places he remembered from home. Childhood places. The corner of a field where long grasses grew. The branch of a tree on which he had often sat, watching his father drive cows home in the evening.
By now he had stared at the window all through a late summer so hot and wet that tiny black mushrooms grew overnight from the pages of his book. Inman suspected that the gray window had finally said all it had to say. This morning, though, it surprised him, because it brought him a lost memory of sitting in school beside a similar tall window, looking out over fields and low green hills to the great height of Cold Mountain.
It was September. The teacher was a round little man, hairless and pink-faced. He talked through the morning about history, teaching the older students about grand wars fought in ancient England. After ignoring him for a time, the young Inman had taken his hat from under his desk and thrown it through the window. It flew high in the air and landed at the edge of a field. The teacher saw what Inman had done and told him to get it and to come back and be beaten. Inman never knew why he did what he did, but he stepped out the door, put the hat on his head, and walked away. He never returned.
The memory passed as the day grew lighter. Inman thought, as he often did, of how he had received his wound during fighting outside Petersburg, in the state of Virginia. When his two closest friends had pulled away his clothes and looked at his neck, they had said a sad goodbye. «We'll meet again in a better world,» they said. The doctors at the local hospital had also expected him to die. After two days they had sent him on to a hospital in North Carolina, his own state. There, the doctors looked at him and said that there was not much they could do. He might live or he might not. But slowly, the wound had started to heal.
Inman thought of the battles he had fought in, in this terrible civil war-Malvern Hill, Sharpsburg, Petersburg. Fredericksburg was another battle he would never forget. He thought back to how the fog had lifted that morning to show a great army marching uphill toward a stone wall. Inman had joined the men who were already behind the wall. They were well-protected there, as you could stand up comfortably and still be in the shelter of the wall, while the Federals had to come uphill across open ground. It was a cold day, and the mud of the road was nearly frozen. The men let the Federals come very near before shooting them down. From behind the wall, Inman could hear the sound of bullets hitting meat. Thousands of Federals marched toward the wall all through the day, climbing the hill to be shot down. Inman started hating them for their stupid desire to die.
Late in the afternoon, the Federals had stopped attacking and the shooting slowly stopped. Thousands of men lay dead and dying on the hillside below the wall. The men on Inman's side who had no boots had climbed over the wall to pull the boots off the dead. That night Inman, too, went out onto the battlefield. The Federals lay on the ground in bloody piles, body parts everywhere. Inman's only thought, looking on the enemy, was, «Go home.» He saw a man killing a group of badly wounded Federals by striking them on the head with a hammer. The man did it without anger, just moving from one to another, whistling softly.
Now, in the hospital, Inman often dreamed that the bloody pieces-arms, heads, legs-slowly came together and formed bodies whose parts did not match. They waved bloody arms, speaking the names of their women or singing lines of a song again and again. One figure, whose wounds were so terrible that he looked more like a piece of meat than a man, tried to rise but could not. He lay still but turned his head to stare at Inman with dead eyes, and spoke Inman's name in a low voice. Every morning after that dream, Inman woke in the blackest of moods.
Some days later, Inman walked from the hospital into town. His neck hurt very badly but his legs felt strong, and that worried him. As soon as he was strong enough to fight, they would send him back to Virginia. He decided that he must be careful not to look too fit in front of a doctor.
Money had come from home and he had also received his pay from the army, so he walked through the streets and bought various things that he needed-a black woolen suit that fitted him perfectly, a black hat, strong boots, two knives, a little pot and cup, bullets for his pistol. Tired, he stopped at a coffee house and slowly drank a cup of something that was supposed to be coffee. He sat with his back straight, looking stiff and uncomfortable in his black suit, with the white bandage on his neck.
Inman picked up the newspaper he had bought, hoping to find something to interest him. On the third page he found a notice from the state government stating that deserters would be hunted down by an organization called the Home Guard. In another part of the paper he read that the Cherokee Indians* had been fighting the Federals. Inman put the paper down and wondered if his Cherokee friend, Swimmer, was among the men who were fighting. He had met Swimmer the summer they were both sixteen. Inman had been given the job of looking after some cows on Balsam Mountain. He had joined a group of men camping there, and after a few days a band of Cherokee Indians had camped a short distance away.
The Indians spent a lot of time playing a fast and dangerous ball game, and Swimmer had come over and invited the white men to play. The two groups had camped side by side for two weeks, the younger men playing the ball game most of the day. They spent the night drinking and telling stories by the fireside, eating great piles of freshly caught fish.
There in the highlands, the weather was almost always clear, and the view stretched across rows of blue mountains. Once, Swimmer had looked out over the mountains and said he believed Cold Mountain to be the chief mountain of the world. Inman asked how he knew that to be true, and Swimmer had simply replied, «Do you see a bigger one?»
In the mornings, when fog lay low in the valleys, Inman used to walk down to a cove to fish with Swimmer for an hour or two. There, Swimmer talked in a low voice, telling stories of animals and how they became as they are. He told of ways to cause sickness or death, how to protect a traveler on the road at night, and how to make the road seem short. Swimmer saw man's spirit as a weak thing, constantly under attack, always threatening to die inside you.
After many days, the weather turned wet and the two camps separated. Thinking of Swimmer now, Inman hoped that his friend was not out fighting Federals but living in a hut by a rushing stream.
He raised his coffee cup to his lips and found it cold and nearly empty. Inman guessed that Swimmer was right to say that a man's spirit could die while his body continued living. Inman felt that his spirit had been burned out of him, but he was still walking. He felt as dead as a tree that had been hit by lightning.
As Inman sat thinking of his loss, one of Swimmer's stories rushed into his memory. Swimmer claimed that above the blue sky there was a forest where a heavenly race lived. Men could not go there to stay and live, but in that high land a dead spirit could be reborn. Swimmer said that the tops of the highest mountains reached into this healing place. Now, as he sat in the coffee house, Cold Mountain came to Inman's mind as a place where his spirit might be healed. He could not bear the idea that this world was all that there was. So he held to the idea of another world, a better world, and he thought that Cold Mountain was probably a good place for it.
Inman took off his new coat and started working on a letter. It was long, and as the afternoon passed he drank several more cups of coffee. This was part of what he wrote:
I am coming home and I do not know how things are between us. Do you remember that night before Christmas four years ago when you told me that you would like to sit there forever and rest your head on my shoulder? Now I am sure that if you knew what I have seen and done, it would make you fear to do the same again.
Inman stood up and folded the letter. He put his hand up to the wound in his neck. The doctors claimed he was healing quickly, but it still hurt to talk and to eat, and sometimes to breathe. But on the walk down the street to mail the letter and then back out to the hospital, his legs felt surprisingly strong and willing.
After supper, Inman checked the knapsack under his bed. There was a blanket already in the bag and to these he added the cup and little pot and the knives. The knapsack had for some time been filled with hardtack, salt pork, a little dried beef, and some cornmeal.
He got in bed and pulled up the covers. Tired from his day of walking about town, Inman read only for a short time before falling asleep. He woke sometime deep in the night. The room was black and the only sounds were of men breathing and moving about in their beds. He rose and dressed in his new clothes. Then he put on his knapsack and went to the tall open window and looked out. Fog moved low on the ground, though the sky was clear. He stepped out of the window.
Ada sat in the porch of the house that was now hers, writing a letter. Putting the point of the pen in ink, she wrote:
This you must know: although you have been away for so long, I will never hide a single thought from you. I believe it is our duty to be honest with each other and unlock our hearts.
She blew the paper to dry it and then carefully read her letter. She decided that she did not like what she had written and threw the letter away. Aloud she said, «That is just the way people talk. It means nothing.»
She looked over to the kitchen garden, where tomatoes and beans grew that were hardly bigger than her thumb, although it was the growing season. Many of the leaves were eaten away by insects. Beyond the failed garden lay the old cornfield, now grown wild. Above the fields, the mountains showed faintly through the morning fog.
Ada sat waiting for the mountains to show themselves clearly.
The house and gardens were now in a terrible condition and Ada felt comforted that at least the mountains were as they should be. Since her father's funeral, Ada had done hardly any work on the farm. She had at least milked Waldo, the cow, and fed Ralph, the horse, but she had not done much more because she did not know how to do much more. She had left the chickens to look after themselves and they had grown thin and wild, and it had become more and more difficult to find their eggs.
Cookery was now a real problem for Ada. She was constantly hungry, having eaten little through the summer except milk, fried eggs, salads, and tiny tomatoes. She had been unable to make butter. She wanted to eat a chicken dish followed by a cake, but had no idea how to prepare such a meal.
Ada rose and started looking for eggs. She searched everywhere but found nothing. Remembering that a red hen sometimes sat in the big bushes on either side of the front steps, she went to one of the bushes and tried to look inside it. Folding her skirt tightly around her, she went on her hands and knees into the empty space in the center of the bush. There were no eggs there, but as she sat there she was reminded of times in her childhood when she and her cousin Lucy had hidden in bushes like this one. Looking up through the leaves at the pale sky, Ada realized that she wished never to leave this fine shelter. When she thought about what had happened to her recently, she wondered how her father had allowed her to grow up so impractical.
She had grown up in Charleston, and her father had given her an education far better than most young girls received. She had become a clever, loving daughter, filled with opinions on art and politics and literature. She could speak French and Latin quite well, and spoke a little Greek. She was able to sew and play the piano and was talented at painting and drawing. She read a lot. But none of these things helped her now, as the owner of a mediumsized farm, and she had no idea how to look after it.
All her life, Ada's father had kept her away from hard work. He had hired workers to help on the farm, and a man and his part- Cherokee Indian wife to help in the house, so that Ada only had to plan the weekly menus. She had therefore been free to spend her time reading, sewing, drawing, and practicing her music. But now the hired people were gone, leaving Ada to manage on her own.
Suddenly, the red hen came flying through the leaves, followed by the big black and gold rooster. He looked at her with his shining black eyes for a moment, then flew at her face. Ada threw up a hand to protect herself and was cut across the wrist. She knocked the bird to the ground but he flew at her again, and she escaped from the bush with the rooster scratching at her legs. She hit the bird until it fell away, and ran into the house, where she sank into an armchair and examined her wounds. There was blood on her wrist and scratches on her leg, and her skirt was torn. This is the place I have reached, she thought. I am living in a world where this is your reward for looking for eggs.
She rose and climbed the stairs to her room, removed her clothes, and washed. Finding no clean clothes, she took some from near the bottom of the dirty clothes pile. She wondered how to get through the hours until bedtime. Since the death of her father, Monroe, she had sorted out his things, his clothes and papers, but that was all she had done. Now, at the end of each empty day, the answer to the question, «What have you achieved today?» was always, «Nothing.»
Ada took a book from her bedside table and went to sit in the upper hall in her father's old armchair by the window, where the light was good. She had spent much of the past three months sitting in the armchair reading. She liked the fact that when she looked up from the page, she could see the fields and mountains, and the great height of Cold Mountain above them all. It had been a wet summer and the mountains, with their fogs, clouds, and gray rain, were very different from her home town of Charleston.
She began to read, but could not stop thinking about food. She had not yet eaten breakfast, although it would soon be time for lunch. She went down to the kitchen and spent nearly two hours trying to make a loaf of bread. But when the loaf came out of the oven, it looked like badly made hardtack. Ada tried a piece, then threw it outside for the chickens. For lunch she ate only a plate of the little tomatoes and two apples.
Leaving her dirty plate and fork on the table, Ada went to the porch and stood looking. The sky was cloudless. She walked down the path a little way and turned onto the river road, picking wild flowers as she went. In fifteen minutes she reached the little church that had been Monroe's responsibility. Ada climbed the hill and went behind the church and stood beside Monroe's grave. She put the flowers on the ground and picked up the previous bunch, now wet and dying.
The day Monroe had died was in May. Late that afternoon, Ada had prepared to go out for a time to paint the flowers by the stream. As she left the house, she stopped to speak to Monroe, who sat reading a book under the apple tree in the yard. He seemed tired and said he would sleep, and asked her to wake him when she returned.
Ada was away for less than an hour. As she walked from the fields into the yard, she saw that he was lying with his mouth open. She walked up to wake him, but as she approached she could see that his eyes were open, his book fallen into the grass. She ran the last three steps and put her hand to his shoulder to shake him, but she knew immediately that he was dead.
Ada went as fast as she could for help, running and walking to her nearest neighbors, the Swangers. They were members of her father's church, and Ada had known them from her earliest days in the mountains. She reached their house breathless and crying. It had started raining, and when she and Esco Swanger got back to the cove, Monroe's body was wet and leaves had fallen on his face.
She had spent the night in the Swanger's house, lying awake and dry-eyed, longing for her dead father.
Two days later, she had buried Monroe on the little hill above the Pigeon River. The morning was bright and windy. Forty people, dressed in black, nearly filled the little church. Three or four men talked of Monroe's fine qualities, his small acts of kindness, and his wise advice. Esco Swanger spoke of Ada and her terrible loss, of how she would be missed when she returned to her home in Charleston.
Then, later, they had all stood and watched the burial. Afterward, Sally Swanger had taken Ada by the elbow and walked with her down the hill.
«You stay with us until you can arrange to go back to Charleston,» she said.
Ada stopped and looked at her. «I will not be returning to Charleston immediately,» she said. «I will be staying at Black Cove, at least for a time.»
Mrs. Swanger stared at her. «How will you manage?» she asked.
«I'm not sure,» Ada said.
«You're not going up to that big dark house by yourself today. Take dinner with us and stay until you're ready to leave.»
«I would be grateful,» said Ada.
She had stayed with the Swangers for three days and then returned to the empty house, frightened and alone. It was a brave decision, as the war was not going well for the southern states. The Federals were just over the mountains to the north, and according to the newspapers, things were growing desperate in Virginia. People worried that the Federals would soon come south looking for food, take what they wanted, and leave people with nothing. Everyone in town knew how the Feds had robbed a family, taking every animal and piece of food they could find, and setting fire to the henhouse as they left.
The Home Guard was as bad or worse. The story was that
Teague and his men had thrown a family called the Owens out into their yard at dinnertime. Teague claimed they were known to be lovers of the Federals. First they searched the house, and then they examined the yard to see if they could find soft dirt from fresh digging. They hit the man and later hit his wife. Then they hanged a pair of dogs, tied the woman's thumbs together behind her back, and pulled her up by them with a rope thrown over a tree. But the man still wouldn't say where he had hidden the silver.
A white-headed boy called Birch had said he believed that maybe they should stop and leave. But Teague pointed a pistol at him and said, «I won't be told how to treat these people. I'll do exactly what I like.» In the end, they didn't kill anybody and didn't find the silver either, but just lost interest and left.
Walking back home from her father's grave, Ada stopped to rest by a rock that had a view of the river valley. She looked up toward Cold Mountain, pale and gray and distant, then down into Black Cove. She knew that if she stayed, she would need help, but she doubted that she could find anyone, since all the men fit to work were fighting in the war. She sat and looked down at the farm. It seemed a mystery to her that she owned the farm, though she could say exactly how it had happened.
She and her father had come to the mountains six years earlier, hoping to find a cure for the illness that was slowly destroying Monroe, so that he coughed up blood each day. His Charleston doctor had recommended living in the mountains, and Monroe had found a mountain church that needed a preacher.
They had set off immediately, traveling first by train to Spartanburg, where they had stayed for several days, and then by horse and carriage. They had left Spartanburg in the hour before dawn, and had traveled all through the day, through land that climbed higher and higher. As the day went on, Ada became certain that the road would disappear completely, leaving them lost in a wild country. Monroe, however, was excited and from time to time spoke poetry aloud. Ada had laughed and kissed him, thinking that she would follow him anywhere. It was long after midnight when they came to a dark little church on a hill above the road and a river. They went in out of the rain and lay down in their wet clothes. The next morning Monroe rose stiffly and walked outside. Ada heard him laugh and then say, «My God, I thank you once again.» She went to him. He stood in front of the church, laughing and pointing above the door. She turned and read the sign: Cold Mountain Church.
«We have arrived home,» Monroe said.
In the weeks that followed their arrival, Ada and Monroe had visited members of the church and others who they hoped would join it. People seemed distant and quite cold. Only the men would come out to meet them, and sometimes Monroe and Ada would be invited in and sometimes not. When they were invited inside, the men looked at the fire and did not speak. When Monroe asked a direct question, often they just looked at him. There were hidden people in the house-women, children, and old people-but they never introduced themselves. To Ada, these people seemed to care nothing at all for the things she and Monroe knew. These mountain people clearly saw life very differently.
But Monroe and Ada remained at the church, living in a little riverside house that belonged with it. Then, when Monroe's health improved and people seemed to be accepting him, Monroe sold the Charleston house and bought the cove from the Black family. He liked the way the land was flat and open at the bottom of the cove, and he liked the wooded hillsides that rose from the farm toward Cold Mountain, and the ice cold water from the stream. And he especially liked the house he had built there, with its big porch all across the front, and the great fireplace in the sitting room. When he bought the cove, the place had been a farm, but
Monroe did not bother to manage the farm well, since he had put his money into rice and cotton and did not need to grow his own food.
Still seated by the rock, Ada took a letter from her pocket and began to read it. It was from her father's lawyer in Charleston, and in it he informed her that due to the war, Ada's income from rice and cotton had been reduced to almost nothing. Ada stood up, put the letter back in her pocket, and took the path down to Black Cove. She wondered how she would find the courage to hope. When she reached the old stone wall that marked the edge of the farm, she paused again. It was a lovely spot, one of her favorite corners of the farm. The wall went north to south, and on this sunny afternoon it was warm with afternoon sun. An apple tree grew near it, and a few early apples had fallen into the tall grass. Ada thought it was the most peaceful place she had ever known. She settled herself against the wall, took her book from her pocket and began reading, until eventually she fell asleep in the long grass.
When she woke, it was dark, and a half-moon stood high in the sky. She had never spent a night in the woods alone, but she was less frightened than she expected. She sat for hours watching the progress of the moon across the sky, until the first gray light appeared. In her mind, she considered the possibilities again and again. They were few. If she tried to sell Black Cove and return to Charleston, the little money she would receive would not last long. After a time, she would have to live with friends of her father, probably as a teacher to their children.
It was that or marry. But the thought of returning to Charleston in order to hunt for a man disgusted her. She tried to see herself saying to someone that she loved him, when she actually meant that she needed his money. But she could not imagine the marriage act with such a man.
She knew that if she returned to Charleston under these conditions, she could not expect people to welcome her, because in the opinion of Charleston society she had refused too many men who had shown an interest in her. She had told too many of her friends that these men bored her and that marriage was not a woman's only purpose in life. As a result, many people thought that she was very strange. In the year before they had moved to the mountains, Ada had lost many friends. So even now, the idea of returning to Charleston was a bitter thought. There was nothing pulling her back and she had no family there.
And although she was an outsider, this place, the blue mountains, seemed to be holding her where she was. The only thought that left her any hope of happiness was this: the land that she could see around her was her own, belonged to her.
She returned to the house in the early morning, and was sitting in the porch some hours later, wondering what her next action should be, when she saw a figure come walking up the road. It was a girl, a short one, thin as a chicken neck except across the lower half of her body, where she was quite wide. The girl came up to the porch and, without asking permission, sat in the chair next to Ada. She wore a blue, square-necked dress made of cheap cloth.
«Sally Swanger said you're in need of help,» she said.
Ada examined the girl carefully. She was a dark thing, with a thin chest but strong-looking arms. She had a broad nose and her hair was black and thick. Big dark eyes, no shoes, clean feet.
«Mrs. Swanger is right. I do need help,» Ada said, «but I need help with the farm. It's rough work and I believe I need a man for the job.»
«Number one,» the girl said, «if you have a horse, I can plow all day. Number two, every man worth hiring has gone to fight.»
The girl's name, Ada soon discovered, was Ruby, and after talking for a time, Ada began to think that Ruby was strong enough to work on the farm. Just as importantly, as they talked, Ada liked Ruby and felt that she had a willing heart. And though
Ruby could not read a word or even write her name, Ada thought she saw in her something hard and bright. And they shared this: Ruby was a motherless child from the day she was born. In a short time, and to Ada's surprise, they came to an agreement.
Ada said, «At the moment, and possibly for some months, I have very little money.»
«Money isn't important,» Ruby said. «Sally said you needed help, and she was right. But I don't want to be your servant. I'm saying, if I'm going to help you here, both of us must understand that.»
As they talked, the black and gold rooster walked by the porch and paused to stare at them.
«I hate that bird,» Ada said. «He attacked me.»
Ruby said, «I wouldn't keep a bird that did that to me.»
«But how can I get rid of it?» Ada said.
Ruby looked at her in surprise. She rose and quickly seized the rooster, put his body under her left arm, and with her right hand pulled off his head. He struggled for a minute and then went still. Ruby threw the head into a bush.
«He'll need cooking for quite a time,» she said.
By dinnertime the meat of the rooster was falling from the bones, and bread was baking in the oven.
The Journey Begins
It was dawn and the golden sunlight shone down on a tall man in a black hat, with a knapsack on his back, walking west. After the lonely, wet nights he had recently spent, Inman felt half-dead. He stopped and put his boot on the roadside fence, and looked out across the fields. He tried to greet the day with a thankful heart, but he hated this flat land, with its red dirt and bad smell. The wound in his neck felt freshly raw and hurt badly. He put a finger underneath the bandage, and to his surprise realized that the wound had healed over and was no longer a deep red hole.
He calculated that although he had been walking for some days, he had not traveled a great distance from the hospital. His wound forced him to walk slowly and rest more often than he wished. He was very tired and also rather lost, still trying to find a route that went directly toward his home in the Appalachian mountains. But the country consisted of small farms, all cut up by tiny paths that crossed each other, with no signs to say where they were going. He kept feeling that he had been led further south than he wanted. And the weather had been bad, with rain that came suddenly, with thunder and lightning, day and night. Each farm had two or three dogs and he was often forced to fight off their attacks. The dogs and the danger of the Home Guard meant that he was always nervous traveling through the dark nights.
The previous night had been the worst. He had heard the sound of horses and had climbed a tree and watched as a pack of Home Guard came by, searching for men like him to seize and beat and return to the army. When he had climbed down and begun walking again, every tree seemed to have the shape of a man, and once he aimed his pistol at a bush that looked like a fat man with a big hat.
That long night finished, his greatest desire now was to climb over the fence, walk out across the fields into the woods, and sleep. But having at last reached open country, he needed to move on, so he took his foot off the fence and continued walking. The sun climbed the sky and turned hot, and all the insect world seemed interested in Inman's body. In the afternoon he came to a small village with a store and a few houses. Inman decided to risk going to the store to buy food. He put his pistol into his blanket roll in order to look harmless and not attract attention.
Two men sitting on the porch hardly looked up as he climbed the steps. One man was hatless, with his hair standing up on his head. The other man, who wore a cap, was studying a newspaper. Leaning against the wall behind him was an expensive gun. Inman wondered what men like these were doing with such a good gun. He walked past them into the store and they still did not look up. The store did not have much, but Inman bought cornmeal, a piece of cheese, some hardtack, and then he went out onto the porch. The two men were gone. Inman stepped down into the road to go on walking west, eating as he traveled. A pair of black dogs crossed the road in front of him.
Then, as Inman came to the edge of the town, the two men who had been on the porch suddenly came from behind a house and stood in front of him. They were not big men, they were drunk, maybe, and seemed too confident.
«Where are you going, you fool?» the man with the cap said.
Inman said nothing. He finished his food with two big bites. Before the war he had never much liked fighting, but when he had joined the army, he had discovered that fighting was easy for him. He had decided that it was like any other thing, a gift. The two men jumped on him before he even had time to remove his pack. But Inman fought them off and beat both of them to the ground, so that they lay quiet, face down. Then the hatless man rolled over and pulled out a small pistol. Inman seized the pistol and beat the man on the head with it, threw it onto the roof of a building, and walked away.
Outside the town, he turned into the woods and walked away from the road. All through the afternoon he continued west through the woods, stopping now and again to listen for anyone following. Sometimes he thought he heard voices in the distance, but they were faint and were probably his imagination. Night came, and as he walked, Inman's thoughts went back to his home in the mountains, and he remembered the day he first saw Ada.
Inman had attended church especially to see Ada. In the weeks following her arrival in Cold Mountain, he had heard much about her before he saw her. She and her father had caused a lot of amusement among the houses along the river road. People sat on the porch, as at the theater, eager to watch Ada and Monroe pass by in their carriage. All agreed that Ada was pretty, but they laughed at her Charleston clothes and hairstyles. If they saw her holding a flower in order to admire its color, or bending to touch a leaf, some called her mad. People could not understand her habit of staring at a thing-bird, or bush, sunset, mountain-and then scratching at a piece of paper with her pen.
So one Sunday morning Inman dressed himself carefully-in a new black suit, white shirt, black tie, black hat-and went to church to take a look at Ada. It had rained and the road was muddy, so that he arrived late and had to take a seat at the back. He could only see the backs of people's heads, but he recognized Ada immediately, since her dark hair was twisted up on her head in a style that was not known in the mountains. A few fine curls lay on her soft neck, and all through the church service, Inmans eyes remained on her white skin. After a while, even before he saw her face, he wanted to press two fingers against the back of her neck.
That morning Monroe preached, as he often did, about the question that worried him most: Why was man born to die? He had no real answer, and people had become bored with his constant questioning. Inman sat staring at Ada's neck, not really listening to Monroe's words, waiting for him to finish.
When the service ended, the men and women left the church by separate doors. The men lined up to shake hands with Monroe and then they all chatted with each other and discussed whether it would rain again. Ada stood on the edge of the group, looking foreign and beautiful and very uncomfortable. Everyone else wore warm woolen clothes, but she was wearing a light, cream-colored dress that did not suit the weather at all. The older women came to her and said things, and then there were embarrassed pauses and they walked away.
«If I went and told her my name, do you think she'd answer me?» said a man who had come to church for exactly the same reason as Inman.
«I couldn't say,» Inman replied.
«You haven't an idea how to begin talking to her,» another man laughed.
Inman walked away from the group towards Sally Swanger. «I'll do some work on your farm if you'll introduce me,» he said.
Sally laughed. «Notice I'm not even asking who to,» she said.
«Now's the time,» Inman replied.
Mrs. Swanger took Inman's black coat by the sleeve and pulled him across the yard to Ada. He raised his hand to take off his hat.
«Miss Monroe,» Sally Swanger said, her face bright, «Mr. Inman has asked to meet you. You've met his parents. His people built the church.»
Mrs. Swanger walked away and Ada looked Inman directly in the face. He realized too late that he had not planned what to say.
«Yes?» said Ada. There was not much patience in her voice, and for some reason Inman was amused. He held his hat and looked into it, hoping for an idea.
«You're free to put your hat back on, and say something,» Ada said.
«You know, people are very interested in you,» said Inman.
«A new experience, am I?» Ada asked.
«No,» Inman said.
«Then what would you compare me to?»
«Like picking up a thistle,» Inman said.
Ada smiled, liking the comparison. «Tell me this,» she said. «A woman earlier said that it was sheep-killing weather. Did she mean it was good weather for killing sheep, or that this weather killed sheep?»
«The first,» Inman said.
«Well, then, I thank you. You've been useful to me.»
She turned and walked away to her father. Inman watched her touch Monroe's arm and say something to him, and they went to the carriage and drove off.
Late in the night, Inman followed a rough road that ran along the banks of the Deep River. It soon went down into a gorge, with high rocks on either side, so that there was only a piece of sky above. It was so dark for a time that Inman had to feel with his feet for the soft dust of the road to find the way. He did not like his position and feared the Home Guard horsemen would find him before he could find a place to leave the road.
Although it was painful, he started to run, and some minutes later he saw a light ahead. As he approached, he saw that a man was standing in the road, holding a lamp. Walking quietly, Inman came closer and stopped by a rock less than ten meters away. The man wore a suit of black clothes and a white shirt. He held a horse by a rope tied around its neck. In the light Inman could see that the horse carried something white across its back.
«Lord, oh Lord!» the man cried. His whole body was shaking and he seemed desperate. Then he walked to the horse and lifted the white object off the animal, and Inman could see that he was carrying a woman, with her black hair brushing the ground. Inman realized that the man was taking her to the edge of the gorge. He could hear the man crying in the dark as he walked.
Inman took out his pistol and ran along the road toward the man. «Put her down,» he said.
She dropped at the man's feet.
«What pistol is that?» the man said.
«Step away from her,» Inman said. «Get over there where I can see you.»
The man stepped across the body and approached Inman. «You're a message from God saying no,» the man said. He fell to his knees in the road and Inman saw that his face was shiny with tears. Inman hit him lightly with the pistol so that he fell in the road on his back.
«You deserve to be killed,» Inman said.
«Don't kill me, I'm a preacher,» the man replied.
Inman showed his surprise.
«Is she dead?» he asked.
«No. She has a child inside her. And I gave her some powder to make her sleep for four hours.»
«Not married to her?»
Inman stepped over to the girl, put a hand to her dark head, and lifted it. She looked drugged, but he could see that she might be attractive.
«Put her back on the horse,» Inman said.
The man did as he was told, and then said, «What now?»
«Where did you come from?» Inman asked.
«There's a town not far off,» the man replied, pointing up the road in the direction Inman was going.
«Walk in front of me and show me the way,» Inman said.
They started walking. Inman kept his pistol in one hand and led the horse with the other. The road soon started climbing through low hills. They walked in silence for some time, until finally the preacher said, «What do you intend doing with me?»
«I'm thinking about it,» Inman said. «How did you get into this trouble?»
«It's hard to say. No one in town knows about us. She lives with her deaf old grandmother, and it was easy for her to come away at midnight and lie on a river bank with me until the first birds began to sing.»
«You were going to throw her into the gorge like a dead pig.»
«Well, yes, but I had to think about my position. If we had been found out, I would have been chased out of town. Believe me, I spent many nights worrying about what to do.»
«Why didn't you marry her?»
«I had already asked another woman to marry me.»
«Then you shouldn't be a preacher,» Inman said.
They walked on and came to a small town on the river bank.
«I'll tell you what we're going to do,» Inman said. «We're going to put her back in her bed.»
They entered the town. «Which house?» Inman said.
The preacher pointed down the road to a tiny house. When they reached it, Inman took the rope off the horse and tied the preacher by his neck to a tree.
«Stand here quietly and we'll live through this,» he said.
He lifted the girl from the horse, with one arm under her waist and another under her soft legs. Her dark head rested helplessly on his shoulder. «I ought to kill him,» Inman thought. He carried the girl to the house, put her down by a bush, and looked in through a window. An old lady slept on a bed by the fire, with her mouth open. The door was not locked and Inman put his head inside. «Hey,» he said, but the old lady did not move. There was an empty bed at the end of the room, and Inman stepped outside, picked the girl up, and carried her to the bed. He pulled off her shoes and covered her to her chin. Then he left her and walked back out to where the preacher stood tied to the tree. He took pen and ink and paper from his knapsack, and found a place where the moonlight came through the trees. He wrote the story down, then put the paper in a tree branch where the preacher could not reach it.
The preacher watched him and when he guessed what Inman was writing, he kicked at him with his feet.
«You've ruined my life,» he said.
«Don't blame that on me,» Inman said. «I don't want to have to wonder it you'll be back in that black gorge in a night or two with her lying on your horse again.»
«Then shoot me and leave me.»
«Don't think that I don't want to do that,» Inman said as he walked away.
That first morning, Ada and Ruby agreed that Ruby would move to the cove and teach Ada how to manage a farm. There would be very little money involved in her pay. They would take most of their meals together, but Ruby did not want to live with anyone else and decided she would move into the old cabin near the house. After they had eaten their first dinner, Ruby went home and gathered her belongings. She came back to Black Cove with them, and seldom thought about the past again.
The two women spent their first days together listing the things that needed doing. They walked together around the farm, Ruby looking around a lot, talking constantly. She had ideas about everything. The most urgent matter, she said, was to start a good vegetable garden. She suggested that they clear the old cornfield. She wanted more chickens and thought of buying a pig. She was delighted by the number of apple trees, and said that they could sell the apples in October. She was also pleased with the tobacco field. The tobacco plants were tall and strong, and she thought they could sell them in exchange for seed and salt and other things they could not produce themselves.
When Ada told Ruby how little money she had, Ruby said, «I've never held a piece of money bigger than a dollar in my hand.» Ruby's opinion was that they did not really need cash. Ruby had never felt comfortable with money, especially when she thought of how one could hunt, gather, and plant the things one needed. And it was true that now, with the war, money had lost so much value that it was hard to buy anything with it anyway. On their first trip together into town, they could not believe that they had paid five dollars for a small packet of needles. And the cloth that they wanted was priced at fifty dollars. Ruby said that if they had sheep they could make the cloth themselves. Ada could only think that it would take many days of hard work. Money made things so much easier.
But even if they had it, store owners really didn't want money, since the value of it was likely to fall almost immediately. The general feeling was that paper money ought to be spent as soon as possible. It was wiser to exchange food and other goods. Ruby seemed to understand this.
Ruby's plan was this: Ada should sell either the carriage or the piano. She believed she could exchange either one or the other for the things they would need to get through the winter. Ada thought about this for two days, and finally surprised herself by deciding to sell the piano. She did not play the piano particularly well, and it had been Monroe who had wanted her to learn. Also, she knew that she would have very little time for art in her future life and that she would spend most of the free time she had drawing and painting.
After Ada had taken her decision, Ruby wasted no time. She knew who had extra animals and food, and she decided on Old Jones who lived up on East Fork, and whose wife had wanted the piano for some time. Ruby was a hard bargainer, and Jones was finally made to give a fine pig, half a dozen sheep, and large quantities of cornmeal, green vegetables, and smoked meat.
In a few days, Ruby brought the pigs and the little sheep up into Black Cove. She took them to Cold Mountain to feed through the fall, and marked their ears with a knife to show who their owner was. Late one afternoon, Old Jones arrived with another man and took the piano away. Ada sat on the porch and watched it go. She did not feel much regret, but she thought about the party that Monroe had given four days before Christmas in the last winter before the war.
The chairs in the room had been pushed back against the wall to make space for dancing, and people who could play the piano each played for a short time. There were pretty lamps in glass bowls, a fashion that no one in the mountains had seen before. On the dining room table there were tiny cookies, cakes and brown bread, and sweet-smelling pots of tea.
In the early evening, people sat and talked in groups of the same sex. Ada sat with the women but looked interestedly around the room. Six old men sat in chairs near the fire and discussed the worsening political situation. The sons of the most valued members of the church sat in a corner of the room and talked loudly. Women of mixed ages sat in another corner. Sally Swanger wore a new pair of fine shoes, and sat waiting for comments on them, holding her legs stiffly out in front of her. Later the groups mixed, and some stood around the piano and sang, and then some of the younger people danced.
As the evening continued, Ada realized that she had had too much to drink. Her face felt hot and her neck was wet under her pretty green dress. Sally Swanger, who had also had too many glasses of wine, took Ada's arm and in a whisper said, «That Inman boy's just got here. I shouldn't say this, but you ought to marry him. The two of you'd make pretty brown-eyed babies.»
Ada had been shocked by the comment, and her face had gone bright red, so that she had to go to the kitchen to calm herself. But there she was surprised to find Inman alone, sitting in the stove corner. He had arrived late, having ridden through a slow winter rain, and he was warming up and drying out before joining the party. He wore a black suit and sat with his legs crossed.
«Oh,» Ada said. «There you are. The ladies are already so pleased to know you're here.»
«The old ladies?» Inman said.
«Well, everyone. Mrs. Swanger is especially pleased by your arrival.»
This comment reminded Ada of Mrs. Swanger's words to her, and the blood rushed to her head.
«Are you all right?» Inman asked.
«Yes, but it's hot in here.»
Ada went to the door and opened it for a breath of cool air. Out from the dark, over a great distance, came the high lonely call of a wild dog.
«That's a sad sound,» Inman said.
Ada closed the door and turned to Inman, but when she did the heat of the room, and the alcohol, and the soft look on Inman's face, made her feel faint. She took a few uncertain steps and when Inman half stood and put out a hand to steady her, she took it. And then, she didn't know how, she found herself in his lap. He put his hands on her shoulders for a moment, and she lay back with her head beneath his chin. Ada remembered thinking that she never wanted to leave this place, but did not realize that she had said it aloud. He seemed as content as she was and he moved his hands to her shoulders and held her there.
She rested in his lap for half a minute, no more. Then she was up and away, and she remembered turning at the door to look back at him, where he sat with a puzzled smile on his face.
Ada went back to the piano, where she played for quite some time. Inman eventually came and stood leaning against the door, watching her for a while before moving away to talk to a friend. Through the rest of the evening, neither Ada nor Inman mentioned what had taken place in the kitchen. They talked once, rather uncomfortably, and Inman left early.
Ada sat on the porch for some minutes after the piano had gone. Then she and Ruby made and drank some real coffee. That morning Ada had discovered a large sack of green coffee beans in a dark corner of the barn. Over the next few days, they exchanged most of the coffee for sacks of salt, corn, potatoes and beans, and eight chickens. In these matters, Ruby was a ball of energy and she soon created a daily routine for herself and Ada. Each day before dawn she milked the cow, lit the fire in the kitchen, and made breakfast. Ada, who rarely got up before ten, started getting up at dawn, too, since Ruby obviously expected her to do so. The two young women ate breakfast together, while Ruby talked about her plans for the day.
After breakfast was done, they worked constantly. On days when there was not one big thing to do, they did many small ones. That first month, Ruby made Ada understand that she needed to get her hands dirty if she wanted food on the table. She made Ada work when she did not want to, made her wear dirty clothes while she dug in the earth. She taught Ada how to turn cream into butter and how to cut the head off a chicken. And Ada did these things, because somewhere inside her, she knew that another person might walk away and let her fail. Ruby would not let her fail.
The only moments of rest were after the supper dishes had been put away. Then Ada and Ruby sat on the porch and Ada read aloud. Then, when it became too dark to read, Ada closed the book and asked Ruby about herself. Over a period of weeks, she learned the story of Ruby's life.
Ruby had never known her mother, and her father, a man called Stobrod Thewes, had never had a job for more than a week or two. They lived in a cabin that had a dirt floor and no ceiling. On many mornings, Ruby had found snow on top of her bed cover when she woke. Stobrod did not look after their home, and in Ruby's opinion was little more than an animal.
Ruby had to find her own food soon after she learned to walk, and was forced to depend on the kindness of the women on neighboring farms. One night, when Ruby was four, she was returning from a farm when her dress got caught in a bush. Ruby spent the night by the bush, unable to get away. She never forgot those dark hours. It was cold near the river, and she remembered shaking with cold and crying for many hours, calling out for help, frightened of the wild animals that might come and eat her. But later she was spoken to by a voice in the dark. She felt that a gentle spirit had come to look after her. She remembered every star pattern that passed across the sky and every word spoken directly to her heart by the calm voice that comforted and protected her all through the night.
The next morning, a man found her and she walked home and never spoke a word to Stobrod about it. He did not ask where she had been. But she still heard the voice in her head, and after that night she seemed to know things that others had no idea about.
As she got older, she and Stobrod had lived off what Ruby grew on their little bit of land. Her father, who loved to drink, often disappeared for many days, walking fifty kilometers for a party, or going off into the woods. So everyone was surprised when, in the first days of the war, Stobrod joined the army. He rode off one morning, and Ruby had not heard from him since. As he had taken the horse, Ruby could not even plow the land. The first year of the war had been hard for her, but she had fed herself by using Stobrod's gun to go hunting in the woods.
At present, Ruby believed she was twenty-one years old, although Stobrod was not certain of either the year of her birth or the day. He could not even remember what season it had been when she arrived.
The Home Guard
Inman walked through days of cooling weather, blue skies, and empty roads. He avoided towns and met few people, and the few he met were mainly slaves. The nights were warm and lit by big moons, and day after day passed with nothing much happening. As he walked, Inman often thought of Ada, and of one evening in particular, that Christmas four years ago when she had fallen into his lap.
It seemed like another life, another world. He remembered her weight on his legs, her softness, and the sweet smell of her hair. She had leaned back and rested her head on his shoulder. Then she had sat up and he had put his hands on her shoulders. He had wanted to put his arms around her and hold her tight, but she had stood up and pulled at her skirt, and smoothed her hair.
«Well,» she had said. «Well.»
Inman had leaned forward, and taken her hand and put his lips to her wrist. Ada had slowly taken her hand away and then stood looking down at it.
«That was unexpected,» she said. Then she had walked away.
He was thinking of her once more when, one day in the early afternoon, he saw a figure in the distance behind him, walking fast. Inman waited until he came to a bend in the road, then he went into the woods and hid behind a tree trunk.
Soon, the walker came around the bend. He had no hair, and wore a long gray coat and carried a knapsack. As the man came nearer, it became plain that he had been badly beaten. When the man raised his blue eyes from the ground, Inman realized that it was the preacher.
Inman stepped into the road and said, «Hello.»
The preacher stopped and stared. «Good God,» he said.
«What happened to you?» said Inman.
«When they found me and read your note, a number of men gave me a beating. They threw my clothes in the river and shaved my head. I was told to get out of town or they would hang me.»
«I can imagine,» Inman said. «What happened to the girl?»
«Oh, Laura Foster. She couldn't remember anything. When they discover she's going to have a child, people will talk about her for a time. In two or three years she'll marry an old man who wants a pretty woman.»
Inman started walking along the road and the preacher, whose name was Veasey, started walking with him.
«Since you appear to be going west, I'll just walk with you, if you don't mind,» he said.
«But I do mind,» Inman said, thinking it was better to go alone than with a fool for a friend. But Veasey continued to walk beside him, talking all the time. He seemed desperate to tell Inman the story of his life and share all the mistakes he had made. He was not a success as a preacher-that was clear even to Veasey.
«I'm going to Texas to start a new life,» Veasey said. «They say it's a land of freedom. I'll claim some land and keep cattle.»
«And how will you buy your first cow?» Inman asked.
«With this.» Veasey pulled a gun from under his coat. «I stole it a day or two ago.»
He sounded as pleased as a boy who had stolen a cake from a neighbor's kitchen.
Inman and Veasey had not traveled far when they came to a tree that had been cut down. Beside it lay a long saw.
«Look,» Veasey said. «Someone would pay a lot of money for that.»
He went to pick it up and Inman said, «The woodcutters have just gone to get their dinners. They'll be back soon.»
«I don't know about that. I just found a saw by the road. I'll sell it to the first man we meet,» Veasey replied.
«For a preacher, you seem very happy to take other people's property,» Inman said.
They walked on and after a time saw a man standing below the road, looking at a large black bull that lay dead in the shallow water of a stream. The man saw them passing and shouted to them for help. Inman climbed down, and Veasey put the saw by the roadside and followed.
They stood beside the man and looked at the bull, which had flies all around it. The man was in late middle age, with a big chest, dark eyes, and a little round mouth.
«How do you aim to get it out?» Veasey asked.
The man pointed to a rope that lay beside him. Inman looked at him and Veasey, then at the bull.
«We could try to pull it,» he said. «But it's a big animal. We'd do better to think of another way.»
The man ignored him and tied the rope onto the bull's neck and they all took hold of the rope and pulled. The body did not move. After some more useless pulling, without saying anything, Inman put down the rope and went back up to the road. He picked up the saw and returned to the bull, putting the saw to its neck.
«Somebody take the other end of this thing,» he said.
Soon they had cut the animal up into sections, which they pulled out of the stream and left on the ground. The water was red with the animal's blood.
«I wouldn't drink that water for a few days,» Inman said.
«Come and eat supper with us,» the man said. «You can sleep in the barn.»
«Only if you'll take that saw,» Inman replied.
«I expect good money for it,» Veasey said quickly.
«Take it for nothing,» said Inman.
The man picked up the saw and the three men walked down the road, which followed the stream. They had not walked far when the man stopped and went to a big tree with a hole in its trunk. He put his arm into the hole and pulled out a bottle.
«I've a number of these hidden around for the right moment,» he said.
They sat against the trunk of the tree and passed the bottle around. The man said his name was Junior, and he started telling stories about his youth and the number of women he had had. He said that all his troubles had begun when he had taken a wife, because three years after the wedding she had had a black baby. She had refused to name the father, and Junior had tried to separate from her, but the judge had not allowed it. She had later brought her two sisters to live with him and they had had children while unmarried.
Having told his stories, Junior led the two men to his house, which was only a short distance away. It was large and in such terrible condition that it stood at an angle to the ground. They walked into the main room, and Junior immediately went to a cupboard and took out a bottle and three cups. The floor, like the rest of the house, was at an angle, and when Inman sat down, he had to stop the chair from sliding over to the wall.
They drank for a time, and Inman became a little drunk. Soon, Veasey fell asleep where he sat. Then a young woman came wandering around the corner of the house and sat between Inman and Junior. She was fair-haired and round, and wore a cotton dress so thin and pale you could almost see her skin beneath it. Her hair was uncombed, and her dress was pulled up over her knees so that Inman could see the upper half of her legs.
Junior said to Inman, «Get this cow to feed you.»
He rose and walked away. Inman followed the woman, who was called Lila, to the back of the house. There was a barn and a henhouse, and in the middle of the yard there was a big fire. Two more pale females appeared, obviously the sisters of Lila. They were followed by two dark-haired boys and a thin, pretty girl of eight or ten. They all gathered about the fire and Lila said, «Supper done?»
Nobody said anything, and one of the sisters picked up a pot and took a deep drink. She passed it along, and when it got to Inman he drank from it, and it was like nothing he had drunk before. The pot went around a number of times.
The sisters took some loaves from the fire and gave them to the children, who tore up the bread and put large pieces into their mouths before disappearing into the house. Then Lila came and stood next to Inman. She put a hand on his shoulder and said, «You're a big man.»
Inman could not think what to reply. Then one of the other sisters came over and said, «Come eat.» Inman carried his knapsack to the porch, and Lila reached out and put it down. As she turned to walk into the house, Inman took the knapsack and pushed it deep into a space between some wood piled high on the porch. He followed the women into the main room and saw that Veasey was still asleep. A lamp was smoking on the table, throwing shadows across the walls and floor. Lila sat Inman at the table, and one of the sisters brought a plate of meat in. Inman could not say what creature it came from. All three girls gathered around the table to watch him eat. Then Lila came over to him and rubbed her stomach against his shoulder.
«You're a fine-looking thing,» she said.
Inman's arms and legs felt strangely heavy and he was unable to think clearly. The young woman took his left hand and put it up under her skirt.
«Get out,» she said to the sisters, and they left.
She climbed onto the table and sat so that her legs were over him. Then she pulled the top of her dress down and leaned forward. At that moment the door opened and Junior appeared, holding a lamp in one hand and a gun in the other.
«What the hell's going on?» he said.
Inman sat back in his chair and watched as Junior pointed the gun at him. «This would be a terrible place to die,» he thought, but he felt unable to move. Junior looked over to where Veasey slept. «Go wake him up,» he said to Lila, and she went to Veasey and bent over him. He woke with her chest in his face, and smiled. Until he saw the gun.
«Now you get the other ones,» Junior said to Lila. He walked over to her and hit her hard across the face. «Get up,» he said to Inman.
Pointing a gun at the two men, Junior made them walk out onto the porch. Inman moved slowly and with an effort. Up at the road he could see faint movements in the dark. As they came nearer, he saw a band of Home Guards and, behind them, another group of men who were chained to each other.
«You're not the first one I've trapped here,» Junior told Inman. «I get five dollars for every deserter I catch.»
They tied Inman and Veasey to the string of prisoners and pushed them all against the wall of the house. None of the tied men said a word, but moved to the wall like half-dead creatures. They leaned back and immediately fell into open-mouthed sleep. But Inman and Veasey stayed awake, from time to time pulling uselessly at their ropes.
The Guards built up the fire in the yard until it stood as high as the walls of the house. After a time, one of them brought out a fiddle and started playing, while the other Guards drank from various pots. Then they danced around the fire and sometimes they could be seen pressing themselves against Lila or one of her sisters. When the men finally stopped dancing, Lila pushed herself against Inman. She looked him in the eye and said, «Bye bye.» Then the Guards pointed their guns at the chained men and marched them off down the road toward the east.