Summary, Chapter Five (“like any other thing, a gift”), pp. 86-102
Inman is walking at night when he comes upon a man about to fling a woman, whom he has drugged, off a cliff and into the river below. Inman stops the man, who turns out to be a preacher getting rid of his pregnant mistress. Inman is in a quandary over what to do, but he decides that he cannot kill the preacher. Instead, he marches him back to his town at gun point.
As they walk, Inman notices the landscape, great gaps of forest burned to make fields. The black stumps glisten in the moonlight. He sees Orion overhead, and he thinks back to the battle at Fredericksburg, where he hunkered in a ditch with a boy and told the boy that the brightest star in Orion is named “Rigel.” On the battlefield bodies lie like black stumps. The boy tells Inman that “Rigel” is man’s name for the star; people aren’t meant to know its real name, the one God gave it. He says that man isn’t meant to know everything; when he does try to know everything, evil comes of it. He tips his head to indicate the battlefield strewn with bodies.
In the preacher’s town, Inman binds and gags the preacher, then returns the unconscious girl to her home. He attaches to the preacher a piece of paper telling the town what the man has done. Then he walks away.
Inman eventually comes across a gypsy encampment, where he is welcomed and fed. He sees a beautiful woman, but he makes no move toward her. Instead, Inman lies down to sleep, reads some more Bartram, and thinks of Cold Mountain and of Ada sitting on his lap in the kitchen that Christmas four years ago. He dreams of Ada and tells her, “I’ve been coming for you on a hard road. I’m never letting you go. Never.”
When Inman goes his own way the next morning, he feels lighter in spirit because of the dream.
Summary, Chapter Six (“ashes of roses”), pp. 103-113
With autumn almost upon them, Ada and Ruby continue working hard on Black Cove Farm. They have done everything according to the “signs” that Ruby believes rule everything, from planting a garden to chopping firewood. While Ada feels she is too educated to believe in such folklore, she does see that folk wisdom holds is a way of taking care of the land, of being in sync with it. The farm has sustained them enough that they are able to feed and shelter a group of war refugees who stumble into Black Cove.
Ruby, Ada discovers, is a storehouse of information about nature. She knows the names of every plant and animal and landmark. When Ada tries to still her mind and simply listen to what is around her, she understands the “luminous quiver of life” that surrounds her. She feels herself to be lucky.
That night, after Ada reads from Homer, Ruby declares that not much has changed in history. Men still go off to war, and the women stay behind. On this note, Ada tells Ruby about a Charleston party she attended during the beginning of the war, when the war seemed glamorous. Ada, dressed in a beautiful gown the color of ashes of roses, goes boating in the moonlight with a young man named Blount. She expects him to propose, but instead Blount breaks down crying, admitting that he is afraid to go to the fighting. Ada knows she should probably say the usual thing to him about being brave, about not worrying. But Ada’s honesty keeps her silent. As Ada returns to the house, she catches a reflection of a beautiful woman in a mirror, a woman dressed in a mauve gown that suits her perfectly. Ada realizes with surprise that the woman is she. She learned sometime later that Blount was killed at Cemetery Ridge.
Ruby goes off to do her “night work,” and Ada contemplates what Monroe once told her about the landscape being a token of heaven’s landscape. Looking out at the night landscape on Black Cove Farm, Ada decides that Monroe was not right. What she sees is not a token, but it is “all the life there is.” In fact, she feels that the land is a “great force of loneliness,” full of yearning. She feels this yearning loneliness as she fetches Waldo the cow from the pasture. She kneels and places her hands on the ground warmed by the cow. She hears an owl, whose call is “like a dove’s cry but with more substance to it.” But she cannot indulge her mood for long; the cow bawls and chores must be done.
Analysis, chapters 5 and 6
Inman’s journey continues to take him through a landscape that seems morally off-kilter. The great black stumps of trees cleared to make farmland make Inman think of an alien landscape; the black stumps of dead bodies he saw littering the battlefield create an equally alien landscape. Is this what comes of man’s great knowledge? Inman wonders. Is this man’s progress? The preacher that Inman encounters embodies the truth Inman is coming to believe: humans, acting selfishly, make a mess of things. Inman however, still tries to follow a moral compass, despite what he has been through. And despite the fact that, peace-loving as he is, he has a “gift” for fighting.
While Inman must deal with the “mess of other people” that comes from progress and knowledge, Ada is learning that the great store of cultural knowledge that she possesses is nothing compared to the understanding of nature that Ruby possesses. Ada is changing, starting to see things through Ruby’s eyes, and instead of feeling poor in both pocket and spirit, she is beginning to feel rich. While the war makes widows and beggars out of women such as the ones who seek shelter at Black Cove, Ada realizes how fortunate she is. She is no longer the beautiful yet cold woman she was in Charleston; that woman was a token of herself.