فصل 08

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فصل 08

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Chapter eight

Stobrod Returns

As the fall progressed, Ruby made plans for the coming winter. One afternoon, she threw two big sacks of apples over Ralph, the horse, and set off for town. She returned carrying six sacks of vegetables that she had exchanged for the apples. When she saw Ada, she handed her a letter, dirty as an old work glove. Ada recognized the handwriting but put the letter away, not wanting to read it while Ruby watched.

That evening, when Ruby had gone to bed, Ada sat on the porch and took the letter from her pocket. By now she had read it several times. She found parts of it hard to understand. Inman seemed to feel that there were strong feelings between them, although Ada could not say exactly how she felt. She had not seen Inman in almost four years, and it had been more than four months since she had last heard from him. The letter she held now was without date, and she did not know if it had been written a week ago or was three months old. He mentioned that he was wounded and talked about coming home, but did he mean now or at the end of the war?

She tried to read the letter in the dark. The only part she could see clearly was this short paragraph:

If you still possess the photograph of me that I sent four years ago, I ask you, please throw it away. I no longer look the same in any way.

Ada of course went immediately to her bedroom and opened drawers until she found the photograph. She had put it away because she had never thought it looked much like Inman. His expression in the picture was very serious, and didn’t look like her memory of him on the last day before he left for the war.

He had come to the house to say goodbye. He was, at the time, living in a room in the town but planning to leave in two days, three at the most. They had walked together down to the stream beyond the fields. Inman, as they talked, was sometimes serious and sometimes cheerful. Ada found herself wondering, “What will I feel if he is killed?” But she could not, of course, say the thought aloud. She did not have to, though, because Inman at that moment said, “If I am shot to death, in five years you’ll hardly remember my name.”

“You know it’s not that way,” she said.

In her heart, though, she wondered, “Is anything remembered forever?” Inman looked away and seemed to be made shy by what he had said.

“Look there,” he said. He looked up at Cold Mountain, which was wintery and gray. He started telling her a story about the mountain that he had heard from an old Indian woman. It was about a village called Kanuga that many years ago stood on the Pigeon River.

One day, a stranger had come into Kanuga and the people had fed him. As he ate, they asked him if he came from far away.

“No,” he said, “I live in a town near here.” He pointed in the direction of Cold Mountain.

“There is no village up there,” the people said.

“Oh yes,” the stranger said. “The Shining Rocks are the entrance to our country.”

“But I’ve been to the Shining Rocks many times, and have seen no such country,” said one man, and others agreed, because they knew the place he spoke of well.

“You must fast,” the stranger said. “If not, we see you but you do not see us. Our land is not like yours. Here there is constant fighting and sickness. And soon an enemy will come and take your country away from you. But there we have peace. And although we die, as all men do, and must hunt for food, our minds are not filled with fear. I have come to invite you to live with us. But before you come, you must fast for seven days. Then climb to the Shining Rocks and they will open like a door, and you may enter our country and live with us.”

Having said this, the stranger went away. After much discussion, the people decided to accept the invitation. They did not eat for seven days, all except for one man who, each night, secretly went to his house and ate meat.

On the morning of the seventh day, the people climbed toward the Shining Rocks, arriving at sunset. When the people stood in front of the white rocks, a cave opened like a door, and they saw that it was light inside, not dark. In the distance, inside the mountain, they could see a river and fields of corn. Then there was thunder and the sky turned black. The people were frightened, but only the man who had eaten the meat became really afraid. He gave a cry of terror and immediately the thunder stopped and the cave door closed, so that there was only the white rock, shining in the last light of the sun.

The people went sadly back to Kanuga. Soon, the stranger’s words came true and their land was taken from them.

When Inman was finished, Ada said, “That was a strange story. You don’t believe it, do you?”

She immediately regretted saying this, because the story obviously meant something to Inman. He looked at her and then at the stream. Then he said, “That old woman looked older than God and she cried tears when she told the story.”

“But it can’t be true,” Ada said.

“I believe it’s true that she had the chance to live in a better world and somehow she lost it.”

Neither of them knew what to say next, so Inman said, “I need to go.” He took Ada’s hand and put his lips to the back of it, before letting it go. He had walked some distance before he turned around and saw Ada turning to walk to the house. Too soon. She had not even waited for him to pass the first bend in the road. Realizing what she had done, Ada stopped and looked at Inman.

Inman turned to face her and said, “You don’t have to stand watching me.”

“I know I don’t,” Ada said.

“You don’t want to, I can see that.”

“It wouldn’t help,” she said.

“It might make some men feel better.” He took off his hat and raised it to her. “I’ll see you when I see you,” he said.

They walked away, this time without looking back.

That night, though, Ada did not feel happy about Inman going to war. It worried her that she had not cried or said what thousands of women said as men left, that they would wait for the man’s return forever. She suspected that, out of habit, she had been distant and cold, and she feared that one day she would find that she could show no other feelings to the world.

She slept badly, her thoughts returning to Inman again and again. But when she woke the next morning, she felt clear-headed and bright, and decided to correct her mistake. The day was cloudless and warm. Ada told Monroe that she wanted to go into town and they drove off in the carriage. When they got there, Monroe gave her twenty dollars and told her to buy something nice. They separated and Ada bought a book and a scarf. Then, knowing it was not how a young lady should behave, she walked to the place where Inman was staying, and climbed the steps to his door.

Inman’s face showed surprise when he saw Ada. He came out of his room and crossed his arms. There was a long silence.

She said, “I wanted to tell you that I thought things ended badly yesterday. Not at all as I wished them to be.”

Inman’s mouth tightened. He said, “I don’t believe I understand you. I didn’t expect anything different.”

At Inman’s reply, Ada thought about walking away and putting him forever behind her. But she said, “We might never speak again, and I know I disappointed you yesterday. I didn’t follow my heart. I’m sorry for that.”

“It’s too late,” Inman said, still standing with his arms crossed, and Ada reached out and pulled until she unlocked his arms. Then she took his wrist and held it.

Neither of them, for a moment, could look the other in the face. Then Inman pulled his hand away and threw his hat in the air and caught it. They both smiled, and Inman put one hand to Ada’s waist and pulled her to him for the kiss they had not given each other the day before.

They walked together down the steps, feeling that a promise had been made.

“I hope I see you soon,” Inman said.

“We both do, then,” Ada replied.


One afternoon, as Ruby was working in the yard, she saw a man in dark clothes and a big gray hat coming toward her, with a smile on his face.

“So you’re not dead?” Ruby said.

“Not yet,” said Stobrod.

Ruby looked at him. He had changed. He seemed such an old, small man, with his hair half gone from his head.

“How old are you now?” she said.

He thought for a minute. “Maybe forty-five,” he said.

“You’ve run off from the fighting, no doubt.”

“I fought like a hero.”

“You sit on the porch steps and I’ll bring you some food,” Ruby said.

She went inside and found Ada sitting by the window in the kitchen.

“My daddy’s out on the porch,” Ruby said.

“Pardon?”

“Stobrod. He’s come home from the war. But I don’t care. A plate of food and then we’ll send him away.”

Ruby put some food on a plate and carried it out to the table underneath the apple tree.

“He could eat in here,” Ada said.

“No,” Ruby said.

They watched from the window as Stobrod ate, then Ruby went out to collect his plate.

“Have you somewhere to go?” she asked.

Stobrod told her that he was living with a group of outliers in a deep cave in the mountains. They wished only to hunt and eat, get drunk, and make music.

“Well, I guess that suits you,” said Ruby.

She waved at him to leave and he walked off, in the direction of Cold Mountain.

The two women did not think that they would see Stobrod again, but the next evening, as they were having supper at the table under the apple tree, Stobrod and another man came out from the woods.

“You just say, and I’ll send them on their way,” Ruby said.

Ada said, “We have plenty.”

The two men sat down and Ruby handed them food, which they ate fast. At first, Ruby refused to speak, and Stobrod talked about the war with Ada, saying how he hoped it would end so he could come down from the mountain.

“It’s no joke living on the mountain,” Stobrod said. “That Teague and his men are killers.”

“Who’s your friend?” Ruby asked Stobrod.

“That’s Pangle. He’s not very smart.”

Pangle was a soft, fat thing, with a big round head and hair that was almost white. He had no talent in the world, except a recently discovered ability to play the fiddle, but he was gentle and kind and looked on everything that happened with soft, wide eyes.

When supper was done, Stobrod lifted his sack off the ground and took a fiddle from it. He told the women that something about the war had completely changed how he felt about music.

“Some say I fiddle now like a man wild with fever,” he said. He told them how, in January 1862, a man had come into the army camp, asking for a fiddler. The man’s fifteen-year-old daughter was dying, and the girl had asked for fiddle music to be played to help the pain.

Stobrod had picked up his instrument and followed the man to his house. He had played some dance tunes to the girl as she lay dying, and when he had finished she had asked him to play something of his own. Stobrod was surprised by this request and sat thinking for a minute. Then he started playing, and was surprised by the sad, beautiful sound that came from the fiddle.

When he was done, the girl looked at him and said, “That was fine.” And then she turned her face away and died.

Since then, music had become more and more important to Stobrod. He lost all interest in the war, and instead spent his time learning new tunes from other fiddlers, and making up his own. By now he knew nine hundred fiddle tunes, many of which he had written himself.

“Well, play then,” Ruby said.

Stobrod sat and thought for a minute, then started to play. The tune was slow and sad, quite difficult to play, and very beautiful. Ruby and Ada listened in surprise. To Ada, Stobrod’s playing seemed to show that even a man like Ruby’s father could learn and change for the better.

When Stobrod had finished, he played other wild and beautiful tunes of his own, and Pangle took his fiddle and played with him. As the last tune came to an end, Stobrod smiled a deep, long smile of silent joy.

“He’s done you some good there,” Pangle said to Ada. And then he seemed shocked that he had spoken directly to her, and put his head down, and then looked off into the woods.

Stobrod said, “I want to ask you something.”

“What?” Ruby said.

“The problem is, I need help. I’m frightened.”

He explained that the group of outliers he was living with had started robbing farms. He was afraid that they would attract the attention of the law, and that the Home Guard would come for them. Stobrod had decided to leave the group, taking Pangle, who was one of the group, with him. He needed a promise of food, a place like the barn to stay in in bad weather, and maybe now and then a little money.

“Eat roots,” said Ruby. “Drink muddy water.”

“Have you not got more feeling than that for your daddy?” Stobrod said.

“When I was not yet eight, you left me to look after myself for three months. And there’s this. If the stories about Teague are even half true, we have plenty to worry about if we shelter you. This is not my place. But if it was, I’d say no.”

And with that, Ruby rose and walked off into the darkness. Sometime later, having sent Stobrod off with half-promises of food, Ada was sitting out on the porch, looking at the moon, which was full and high and throwing such light that every tree had a blue shadow. She thought about a love song that Stobrod had sung that night. Its last line was: “Come back to me is my request.” Stobrod had sung the line with feeling, and Ada had to admit that, at least now and then, it was important to say what your heart felt, straight and simple. She had never been able to do it in her whole life, but she thought that she would try now.

She went into the house and came back with pen, ink, and paper, then stared at the paper for some minutes. None of the words that came into her head seemed real. Finally she wrote, “Come back to me is my request.” She signed her name and folded the paper and addressed it to the hospital in the capital. Then she wrapped herself tight in the blankets, and soon she was asleep.

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