Summary, Chapter eighteen (“footsteps in snow”), pp. 310-322
Inman has at last reached Cold Mountain. The day before, he had camped and cleaned himself and his clothes up, all the while picturing his reunion with Ada. He imagined her sweeping out of the house at Black Cove, petticoats billowing, and rushing into his arms before he even gets inside the yard.
Instead, he finds Black Cove all but abandoned, except for the boy from Georgia, who has made himself at home. The boy tells him how Ada and Ruby set off to bury Stobrod and Pangle, and Inman immediately sets out up the mountain to find them. As he walks, he clings to the hope that Ada will not reject him and will instead redeem him; however, a dark voice in his head warns him that he may be too far gone in bitterness to be redeemed. Nevertheless, he will follow Ada’s footsteps in the snow and face whatever happens. He has been fasting for several days, like the Cherokee in his story, hoping that if Ada does indeed reject him, he can go to the Shining Rocks and be found pure enough to enter the promised land denied to the Cherokee.
Meanwhile, Ada and Ruby continue nursing Stobrod in the Cherokee village. When Ada spies a flock of turkeys, Ruby shows her how to shoot a gun and tells her to try to get a turkey. Ada stalks the turkeys through the snow and, to her surprise, shoots two.
Inman, who has long since lost their tracks in the falling snow, hears the shots and heads towards them, unsure what to expect. As he approaches Ada, she does not recognize him and holds him at a distance with her raised gun. Inman, in turn, is not sure the figure dressed as a boy is Ada, but something tells him it is, and he is filled with love for her. All he can say is “I’ve been coming to you on a hard road and I’m not letting you go.”
Ada, however, still does not recognize him, and Inman thinks that she is justified; he is not the same man. Defeated, he turns to walk away. His movement stirs something in Ada’s memory, and she at last recognizes him and says his name. She sees by his response that he is barely standing after all he has been through, and she leads him back to the Cherokee village, speaking softly, as she has seen Ruby do to calm a horse.
Summary, Chapter nineteen (“the far side of trouble”), pp. 323-344
Inman is too tired to even eat, and he sleeps. While he is out, Ruby reveals that she does not welcome Inman’s sudden appearance. She has a plan for Black Cove that does not include a man. Ada, however, tells her that she may not need Inman, but she wants him. She does not intend to grow old alone.
When Inman awakes, he finds Ada and Ruby cooking the turkey in another hut. As he comes into the hut, Ada rises and places her hands on his stomach and back and tells him how thin he has become. Ruby leaves the two of them alone while she tends to Stobrod. At first, Inman and Ada feel self-conscious, not knowing how to act or say what they each feel. Inman shows Ada the Bartram book that comforted him so much, and he chooses a random passage to read aloud, immediately embarrassed that the passage has to do with sex. Ada does not quite know what to say. To ease the awkward moment, Inman takes the dishes out to the stream to wash, but he keeps thinking Ada’s boldness in touching him, and returns to the hut determined to find a way to tell her he loves her.
They speak about the letters they wrote one another and about the Cherokee village, abandoned so long ago. They imagine a family in the hut where they now sit, and they talk about how that family had no preparation for the future that was coming for them, how the things they feared most had come to pass.
Inman tells Ada that he fears he is “ruined beyond repair,” and he also fears that if she marries him she will regret it. Ada, however, responds that anything can be repaired; she has seen cures of all sorts take place in nature. Healing takes work, and a belief in healing.
When Ruby returns, Inman goes back to Stobrod’s hut to get more sleep and keep an eye on Stobrod. Ruby confesses to Ada that she does not know whether Stobrod will make it, and if he does, she is not clear on what she will do with him. Ada assures her that he must be brought to Black Cove to heal and wait out the war.
The next day, Ada and Inman hunt for food together, and Ada tells him how Ruby saved her and Black Cove Farm. She lets him know that Ruby is now a part of Black Cove, that she has earned a right to it. Inman agrees that, if Ruby will put up with him, then he will certainly not stand in her way.
Ada and Inman do not find any game to shoot, but they do find an old arrow lodged in a tree. Inman suggests that they remember the arrow’s location, and as the years pass they will revisit it, showing it to their children. One day, the arrow will have disappeared into the trunk, yet Ada and Inman will dig it out to show even their grandchildren.
That night, Ada comes to Inman as he sleeps, and they consummate their love. Inman feels like a “dead man” being brought back to life. For Ada, lying with Inman is a cure for all the terrible loneliness in the world. They feel safe in the hut, although the hut had not saved its former occupants. They share stories of their childhoods, and Inman tells her a little of what he went through to get home. They talk of their plans, of opening a saw mill, of buying books, “of growing old together measuring time by the life spans of a succession of speckled bird dogs.”
Analysis, chapters 18 and 19
Chapters eighteen and nineteen bring about the reunion between Ada and Inman, but it is a reunion that echoes past failures and gives signs of a doubtful future.
Inman fasts, like the people in the Cherokee myth, to make himself worthy of Ada and the Cold Mountain world; he climbs Cold Mountain after her, only to find her in the village containing the ghostly remains of an old civilization. Their reunion there has an Adam and Eve feel to it; they are a couple dreaming of a new life, in a changed world. At the same time, their reunion has a tenuous feel to it. The arrow they find in the tree betokens a missed shot, a failed culture, a world that did not survive in the face of change.
They certainly are not the same people they were when they parted before the war. Inman is hollowed out and scarred, a dead man in many ways, while Ada is strong and wise now. Her pants and her newfound prowess with the shotgun suggest that she will continue to grow strong. Her certainty that she does not want to be a lonely old woman makes her physically bold with Inman; her belief in the healing powers of the natural world—a belief she learned from Ruby—make her seem powerful. But her words echo the blind man’s in chapter one, when he tells Inman he must put his awful experiences behind him; just as the blind man seemed wise, so does Ada seem, but neither of them could see the future.
Inman’s hope and Ada’s strength, as the end of chapter nineteen foretells, may not be enough to help them through the coming events in a new world, “another country entirely, wherein the possibilities narrowed down moment by moment.”