Summary, Chapter seven (“exile and brute wandering”), pp. 114-135
Inman still heads across country, avoiding towns where he might find trouble. He comes across a variety of harmless people who pay him no mind. He sees a crow fall dead from the sky. He is so hungry that he steals a food left on a river bank by women doing laundry. By and by, he comes upon a man marked by cuts and bruises and a shaved head. The man turns out to be Veasey, the preacher that Inman had left tied to a tree.
Veasey relates how the townspeople threw him out of the town. He claims he is heading for Texas, but for now he walks with Inman. Veasey proves to be unused to the outdoors. He tries to catch a catfish with his bare hands, and finally Inman just shoots the worn out fish.
As the two men feast on the fish, Inman tells Veasey about Petersburg. After the Federals blew a great crater under the Confederate position, they found themselves trapped in the very crater they had made. Inman recalls the hand-to-hand fighting and the bodies everywhere and the ground slick from gore.
The following day, they come upon a country store and decide to chance buying food. However, when they enter the store, Veasey tries to rob the shopkeeper. Inman promptly strikes Veasey down and apologizes to the shopkeeper. Even with Inman’s apology, the shopkeeper turns them away with a shotgun.
The two continue searching for food and shelter, and at last they come upon an inn that has seen better times. When Veasey has a confrontation with another man over a whore, Inman once again steps in to stop him from getting killed. He takes Veasey’s gun away from him and keeps it. Veasey at last goes off with the whore, and Inman eats supper and settles to sleep in the loft of the stable.
His bedfellow turns out to be a peddler named Odell, who tells how he was once the heir to a grand plantation, but he threw it all away when he fell in love with a slave woman. His father sold the woman away, and Odell has been searching for her ever since. He also tells Inman about the atrocities against slaves that he has witnessed in his search for the woman. Inman can only comment that “It’s a feverish world.”
The next morning, he and Veasey, a little worse for wear after his rough night with the whore, set out to cover more ground.
Summary, Chapter Eight (“source and root”), pp. 136-158
Ada and Ruby strike out for town. On the way, they see birds of all kinds, particularly crows, which Ruby says she admires because they make do with whatever presents itself to them. “We might all take instruction from crow,” she tells Ada.
In town, the two women buy supplies for their shotgun, and Ada splurges on a book, charcoal pencils, and a small journal in which to write and draw.
As they walk towards home later, Ada and Ruby see a crowd gathered around a prisoner at the courthouse. He has been imprisoned for desertion by the Home Guard. He tells the crowd how the Home Guard, a band of rag-tag but well-armed men found him and other deserters hidden on a farm. The Guard are led by Teague, a man whose eyes “looked like a cold fireplace with the ashes shoveled out.” Teague and his men brutally kill everyone but the prisoner. “This world won’t stand long,” the prisoner tells the crowd. “God won’t let it stand this way long.”
After listening to the prisoner, the women continue walking back to Black Cove. On the way, they see a great blue heron. Ada draws the heron in her new journal, and Ruby says the heron reminds her of her birth. Ruby’s mother, to rile Stobrod, had told him that a heron had raped her and made her pregnant with Ruby.
Ruby’s story brings to Ada’s mind the story of her own mother and birth. She recalls how Monroe told her he was engaged, but he discovered his fiancé kissing another man. Monroe fled to England and became a minister, but upon his return to America, he discovered that his former fiancé was a widow. He marries her, and the two are very happy for two years, until his wife dies in childbirth. Monroe then dedicated his life to raising Ada.
It is dark by the time Ada finishes her story, and the stars and two planets have come out over Cold Mountain. Ada remarks that one of the brighter planets is Venus.
Analysis, chapters 7 and 8
Chapters seven and eight work in tandem to make a statement about the war and its effect on people in the South.
Inman finds further evidence that men have misapplied the knowledge God gave them and have made a mess of the world or, at least, of the South. Veasey is the perfect example of man abusing the knowledge he has and making messes, some comical and others not so comical. Whereas Inman must steal food because he is genuinely trying to survive, Veasey flourishes a gun and tries to rob a man of food. He uses the gun again at the inn. Veasey does not think through his actions; he acts brutally because he can. Inman, on the other hand, uses brute force only when he must, to stay alive.
Through Veasey, Frazier seems to be making a statement about the South and its motives for engaging in war. The Southern cause began full of bold statements about the right to own slaves and about the glory of war. Yet everywhere Inman comes across evidence that such lofty beliefs have only led to misery.
Chapter eight, “source and root,” continues offering evidence of the South’s flawed actions. From Mrs. McKennet’s blabber about glory to the Home Guard’s misapplication of justice, whatever honor the South intended has certainly been tarnished. As Ada separates herself from the Charleston world that embodied the goals of the war, she begins to see what lies underneath: the earth. Ruby has taught her that nature is flawless in its reasoning; its patterns of life, from crows to rivers to trees, work in sync. The earth is the “source and root” of true knowledge. When Ada remarks on Venus, her knowledge is not just book knowledge to her anymore. Instead, it is an awareness of the natural world.