Ada and Ruby have obtained a horse named Ralph, which they’ll use to plow their land. They also set traps to keep the farm safe from scavengers like squirrels and gophers. Ruby tells Ada that she’ll be leading Ralph across the farmland to familiarize the horse with its new plowing route. Ruby is also planning to trade food with Esco.
Although Ada is taking more responsibility for her farm, Ruby is still running the show, at least for now: it’s Ruby who controls Ralph, and Ruby who plans to make more trades with Esco.
While Ruby leads Ralph through the farm, Ada makes a scarecrow to protect the crops. She rummages through the house for tools with which to make the scarecrow. Inside, she comes across some of her old clothes, including a dress and a hat Monroe bought her years ago on their trip to Europe. Ada decides that she’ll dress her scarecrow with these things.
Symbolically, Ada transforms the clothes Monroe bought her into a scarecrow. This suggests that she simply has no free time to dwell on the past anymore—she must put everything to good use, even something as sentimental as her father’s old gifts to her.
Ada sets up the scarecrow, and Ruby comes back from her trading with Esco. In the afternoon, Ada combs Ruby’s dark hair with an old, fine brush. Ada imagines Ruby as a young child—lonely and abandoned by her family. Then Ruby and Ada set themselves a challenge—plaiting each other’s hair. Ruby notices that Ada’s scarecrow is already scaring away birds, and she compliments Ada on her work. Afterwards, Ruby and Ada compare the plaits they’ve made for each other. Ruby assures Ada that she’s done a better job on Ruby’s hair than Ruby has on Ada’s hair.
In this touching scene, we see Ruby and Ada as equals, plaiting each other’s hair with care and affection. Even if Ruby is more of a leader and an organizer than Ada, this shouldn’t suggest that Ruby is “in charge.” On the contrary, Ruby and Ada enjoy a friendship that’s markedly different from the marriage Ada might otherwise be faced with if she were back in Charleston. Instead of being subservient to a man, she’s now a partner to Ruby. This further suggests a possible romantic aspect to their relationship, or else strengthens the idea that the two continue to grow closer as something like sisters.
In the evening, Ada looks at the letter that she’s received from Inman. She has no idea how old the letter is—it could be a few weeks old, or a few months. In it, Inman tells Ada that he’s been wounded in the neck, and that he looks nothing like his former self. This reminds Ada of the photograph of Inman that she owns. Inman gave her this photograph before he went off to war: in the picture, he wears a military uniform, including a jacket and a hat. Ada remembers Inman presenting her with this photograph. He stopped by one afternoon, while Monroe was reading by the fire. Together, Ada and Inman took a walk by a river, talking about Inman’s upcoming military service. Ada couldn’t stop thinking about the possibility that Inman would be killed.
So far, there haven’t been many descriptions of Inman’s interactions with Ada: we know that Inman and Ada have feelings for each other, but don’t know much else. Here, though, we get a better sense for why Ada cares about Inman. She’s concerned for Inman’s safety, and worries that he’ll be hurt in the war. It’s interesting to contrast Ada’s reaction to Inman’s military service with her reaction to Blount’s service: clearly, she has real compassion for Inman and little for Blount.
Ada continues remembering her walk with Inman. Inman told her a story about an old Cherokee woman whom Inman met as a child. The Cherokee woman told him that there was once an ancient town near Cold Mountain, called Kanuga. One day, the woman went on, a mysterious stranger came to Kanuga, claiming to be from a place called Shining Rocks. In Shining Rocks, the stranger claimed, life was easy—there was no war, sickness, or suffering of any kind. The stranger advised the people of Kanuga to journey to Shining Rocks, but he also warned them that soon they would be conquered by invaders. Confused, the people of Kanuga decided to journey to Shining Rocks in hope of a better life. When they arrived in Shining Rocks, they found a strange cave, in which there was a bright white light. Confused, the people of Kanuga returned to their home. Soon after, the stranger’s words came true: invaders conquered their land.
In this long, mysterious parable, there’s a sense that something important has been lost, or is about to be lost forever—an entire civilization, a way of life. In this sense, the story reflects the Civil War, itself a violent conflict that destroyed the Southern way of life in all its beauty, evil, and contradiction. Inman’s parable is also clearly important to him personally, and seems like a reflection of his feelings for Ada. Like the people of Kanuga, who got a glimpse of something wonderful but then were immediately conquered, Inman has a beautiful, frightening glimpse of his possible future with Ada—but at the same time he knows that he is about to go off to war, and so this future may never be anything more than a dream.
When Inman told Ada this story, Ada was unsure how to react—she had no idea what it meant, but could sense that it meant a great deal to Inman. She could tell that Inman was trying to be light and cavalier, even though he felt a strong sense of foreboding about his time in the army. Inman’s final words to Ada that day were, “I’ll see you when I see you.”
Inman and Ada, in spite of their mutual attraction, certainly aren’t a “couple” yet—they’re both so shy, inexperienced, and repressed by the conditions of their society that they are unable to express their true feelings. Thus this goodbye, which potentially could have been their last, feels so unsatisfying.
When Ada returned to her home after seeing Inman, she found Monroe, still reading by the fire. Ada tried to distract herself by playing the piano and reading, but couldn’t stop herself from thinking about Inman. She had no idea how she’d react if Inman died during the war. She felt guilty for not making more of an effort to understand Inman’s story about Kanuga. That night, she had feverish dreams about Inman’s beautiful body. She was a very inexperienced lover, and had no real idea what men looked like naked, but her imagination filled in the details.
In this scene, Ada’s confusion and uncertainty about her place in the world is obvious. She has no sexual experience with men and no way to express her real feelings, and she feels a strong sense of immaturity overall. This parallels her confusion with regards to Inman’s story about Kanuga: she thinks that it has some elusive meaning that’s just out of her reach.
The next day, Ada woke up and went to visit Inman one more time before he left. She found him in his house, polishing his boots. Ada told Inman that she was sorry about the way they left things yesterday. Boldly, she approached him and squeezed his hand. Then they kissed—something they’d both wanted to do yesterday. Before anything else could happen, Ada backed away, suddenly conscious of the fact that she was wearing many layers of clothing: dress, blouse, corset, etc. She repeated Inman’s words, “I’ll see you when I see you.” This was the last time Ada saw Inman. The narrator concludes, “The war turned out to be a longer experience than either had counted on.”
The interruption of history prevents Ada and Inman from exploring their feelings for one another beyond this brief, passionate moment. The Civil War is a barrier—emotional, temporal, and physical—between them. For that matter, there are lots of barriers between the two protagonists: just as Ada becomes conscious of all the layers of clothing between herself and Inman, so the very structure of the novel (with its two separate plots) becomes a kind of metaphorical divide.