فصل 12

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فصل 12

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  • زمان مطالعه 10 دقیقه
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Chapter twelve

The Last Goodbye

By the morning of the third day in the village, the sky had cleared and there was bright sun. The snow began to melt, dropping from the bent branches of trees, and all day there was the sound of water running under the snow on the ground. That evening the moon was full and its bright light threw shadows of tree trunks on the snow.

Ada and Inman lay under the covers for some time, talking, with the fire low and the door to the cabin open, letting a bar of cold moonlight shine onto their bed. They made a plan for themselves and discussed it for much of the night. They felt certain that the South was going to lose the war, which could not go on many more months. It certainly would not continue past late summer. The choices were these. Inman could return to the army. He would immediately be sent back to Petersburg, where he would try not to get killed and hope for an early end to the war. Or he could stay hidden in the mountains or in Black Cove as an outlier and be hunted like a wild animal. Or he could cross the mountains north and give himself up to the Federals. They would make him sign a document saying he was loyal to their cause, but then he could wait for the fighting to end and come home.

They tried to think of other plans, but finally they had to accept that the three original choices, although they were hard, were the only ones the war allowed. Inman could not accept the first suggestion. Ada felt that the second was too dangerous. So they decided on the third. Over the mountains. Three days or four of steady walking, and then he would cross into the next state, put up his hands, and say that the South had been beaten.

In the end, they both promised to keep in their minds Inman’s return home in three or four months’ time. They would go forward from there into whatever new world the war left behind. And they would do their best to create the future that they had imagined in their talks two nights ago.


On the fourth day in the village, brown leaves and black dirt started to appear on the ground. That day Stobrod could sit up without support and they could mostly understand what he said. His wounds were clean and he could eat solid food. By the fifth day, the snow was more than half gone and Stobrod announced that he was ready to travel.

“Six hours home,” Ruby said. “Seven at most.”

Ada thought that they would all go as a group, but Inman would not allow it.

“Why put everyone in danger, when it’s us they want,” he said, pointing in Stobrod’s direction.

He suggested that Ruby and Ada walk on ahead while he and Stobrod followed a short way behind, with Stobrod on the horse. They would wait in the woods until dark. The next morning, he would start on his journey into the next state. The women would keep Stobrod hidden at home, and if the war had not ended by the time he had healed, they would send him across the mountains to join Inman.

Stobrod had no opinion on the matter, but Ruby agreed with Inman, so that is what they did. The women started walking, and Inman stood and watched them climb the hillside. When Ada disappeared into the trees, a part of the richness of the world seemed to go with her. He had been alone in the world and empty for so long. But she filled him full, and he believed that perhaps everything that had been taken out of him had been for a purpose. To clear space for something better.

He waited for a time and then put Stobrod on the horse and followed, passing Pangle’s grave, still covered with snow. They traveled for some distance, dark clouds floating above them, the path rough and steep. Then they heard sounds behind them and turned to see horsemen on the path.

“Good God,” Stobrod said.

Teague said, “That’s a hard man to kill.”

Stobrod looked at the men and recognized Teague and the boy he kept at his side. The other three men he did not know.

Inman looked around to see what protection there was. He wanted a stone wall, but there was none. He studied the Guards and he knew them by the look in their eye. There was no point in talking with such men. Language would change nothing. He hit the horse hard with his left hand and pulled out his pistol with his right, shooting one of the men in a single movement. Stobrod’s horse went running down the path and disappeared into the trees.

There was a moment of stillness, and then a great deal of movement. The horses all jumped and the riders pulled at their heads to calm them down. Inman ran straight at the group. There was no wall to get behind, no hope to do anything except run into them and try to kill them all.

He shot one rider off his horse. That left only three, and one was already moving away toward the trees. Inman fired again and a horse came down, falling on the leg of one of the riders, who shouted in pain. The other horse started spinning out of control and Teague almost came off. Inman ran to him and pulled the gun from his hand.

The two men looked each other in the eyes, and Teague pulled out a long knife and shouted, “I’ll blacken my knife with your blood.”

Inman fired and the bullet hit Teague in the chest. He fell to the ground, screaming and swearing. Inman hit him on the side of the head with his gun and the man stopped screaming.

Inman looked around for the last rider. He expected the man to have run away, but he found him about fifty meters away, hiding behind a tree. Inman saw that he was only a boy and that he had lost his hat. His head was white. He probably had German or Dutch blood in him, but he was now American, white skin, white hair, and a killer. He looked very young and Inman did not want to shoot a boy.

“Come out of there,” Inman said, making his voice loud enough to be heard.

Nothing. The boy stayed behind the tree.

“Come on,” Inman said. “I’m not asking again. Put down your gun and you can ride home.”

“No, sir,” the boy said. “Here’s fine.”

“Listen,” Inman said. “I’m looking for a way not to kill you.”

“And I’m looking for a way to finish you,” said the boy.

Inman pointed his gun at the tree. “You’re going to have to come out from behind that tree sometime,” he said.

The boy and his horse rode off through the woods and Inman went after him. They chased each other, using the trees to hide behind, and the horse became confused and started jumping around, throwing the boy off her. He lay in the snow where he had fallen. Then he half sat and put his hand to his gun.

“Put that thing down,” Inman said. He had his gun pointed at the boy.

The boy looked at him and his blue eyes were empty as ice. He looked white in the face, a little blond thing, his hair cut close to his head. Only his hand moved, and it moved quicker than you could see.

Inman suddenly lay on the ground.

The boy sat and looked at him and then looked at the pistol in his hand.

Ada heard the gunshots in the distance, dry and thin as sticks breaking. She did not say anything to Ruby. She just turned and ran. Her hat flew off her head and she kept running and left it on the ground like a shadow behind her. She met Stobrod, holding tight onto his horse.

“Back there,” Stobrod said.

When she reached the place, the boy had already gathered the horses and gone. She went to the men on the ground and looked at them, and then she found Inman lying apart from them. She sat and held him in her lap. He tried to talk, but she silenced him. He floated in and out of a bright dream of home. It had a stream rising out of rock, black dirt fields, old trees. In his dream the year seemed to be happening all at one time, all the seasons coming together. Apple trees heavy with fruit and flowers, ice around the stream, red fall leaves floating down on summer roses.

From a distance it looked like a charming scene in the winter woods. A stream, a pair of lovers. The man lying with his head in the woman’s lap. She looking down into his eyes, stroking his hair. He putting an arm around the softness of her body. Both touching each other with great closeness. A scene of such quiet and peace that the observer could imagine that long years of happy union stretched ahead of the two on the ground.

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