Ada and Ruby spend most of the fall working with apples. This requires them to plant seeds, pick apples, carry heavy bags of fruit, etc. The work is tiring, but easier than what Ada was doing in the summer. Ada gets a strong sense of accomplishment when she cuts down dying trees for firewood—though her sense of accomplishment shrinks when she realizes that she’ll have to do it all over again in just a few days.
As Ada progresses with taking care of her farm, she faces the challenge of a farmer’s life in which nothing is permanent. There’s no way for a farmer to complete something and then relax: every task is cyclical, and so will have to be done again in a few days or weeks or months. While this is frustrating, it can be reassuring as well.
Inside the house, Ada pens a letter to her cousin Lucy, who lives in Charleston. In the letter she describes the changes in her life, and suggests that Lucy wouldn’t even recognize her if they were to meet again. Ada has learned to think literally and practically, she explains—when she sees a crow, for example, she does not “seek analogy for its blackness.”
One of the biggest changes we see in Ada here is that she has become firmer and more literal in her thinking—she’s lost the more “poetic” mindset she had when she lived a life of leisure and reading. There’s no time for her to linger over metaphors or abstract meanings anymore.
Ada works hard, cutting hay with a scythe. Late in the evening, exhausted from her day’s work, she sits by the wire, staring up at the stars—Ruby is still doing work. Suddenly, Ada hears Ruby’s name called—it’s Stobrod and a friend of his. Ada stands up and tells Stobrod that Ruby isn’t here. Stobrod nods but sits down next to Ada. Ada notices that Stobrod’s friend—whom he calls Pangle—is carrying a banjo.
Although Ada rejects piano playing as “useless,” since she’s working on a farm all day, she doesn’t discount the importance of art altogether. Stobrod doesn’t have much a community, but the few friendships he does maintain seem based around music and performance.
Ada politely asks Stobrod how he’s doing, and Stobrod explains that he’s been living in the mountains, “like an outlaw.” He introduces his friend as a “simpleminded” boy—possibly related to the Swangers. Stobrod explains how the “boy,” who’s actually around 30, recently learned how to play the banjo—it’s his only talent.
It’s unclear if Pangle is mentally disabled or not, but either way his singular devotion to the banjo seems to have given his life joy and purpose (just as the fiddle has given Stobrod’s life new meaning).
Stobrod goes on to explain to Ada how he found his friend a banjo. A few months ago, Stobrod and some other military deserters snuck into a wealthy man’s home. The gang tied up the man and his wife and beat him. While the other deserters stole food and alcohol from the house, Stobrod stole only a banjo, which he gave to Pangle. In the present, Stobrod and Pangle play music for Ada’s entertainment. Ada is moved by the music—it’s strange and not always pleasant, but it reminds her of her father, who loved fiddling, unlike most preachers. As they play, Ruby arrives, and she sits next to Ada, listening.
It’s interesting that Stobrod’s fiddle music reminds Ada of Monroe, her father. This particular kind of associative memory seems wildly different from the flashbacks through which Frazier has previously presented us with information about Monroe. There’s no sense of trauma or tragedy here: it’s as if Stobrod’s music is helping Ada come to terms with her father’s death—not by making her forget it, but by encouraging her to accept it and then move on.
It’s now late at night. Stobrod and Pangle stop playing their instruments. Ruby mutters to Ada that her father is about to ask them for a favor. Stobrod explains that he needs “caring for”—he’s poor and hungry all the time, and can’t stand the thought of being sent back to fight in the army. Ruby dismissively tells Stobrod to “eat roots” to survive.
If we consider the novel so far, Stobrod’s request for a favor doesn’t seem so unreasonable. Everyone in this book makes trades—often, something concrete in exchange for something abstract. Here, Stobrod wants to trade abstract (but valuable) music for food and shelter.
Stobrod complains to Ruby that she’s not being very sympathetic. Ruby angrily reminds Stobrod of how he went about brewing liquor years ago. When Ruby was eight years old, he left her to go into the mountains to brew liquor. Stobrod left his child for months at a time, and Ruby was forced to forage for wild food and catch fish in the river. Essentially, Ruby says, Stobrod let her starve. The one thing she’ll say for him, she admits, is that he never beat her. But he never patted her on the head or hugged her either. Stobrod and Pangle walk away, quietly.
Ruby shows no signs of coming to terms with her father—she can’t forgive him for abandoning her when she was still a girl, and we don’t expect her to, either. Frazier certainly isn’t saying that Stobrod’s love of music excuses or expunges his sins as a father—rather, he’s trying to suggest that Stobrod is trying to be a better man; it’s an active process with no clear end in sight.
Ada and Ruby go into the house to sleep. Ada pulls out a telescope and points it at the stars. She thinks of the majesty of the stars, and compares the spectacle with John Keats’s poem Endymion—she concludes that the natural world is more beautiful and complex than any poem could ever be. She writes Inman a simple letter: “Come back to me.”
Ada was raised to read poetry and play music. But as she enters real adulthood, she becomes convinced that the true beauty of the world can be found by getting in touch with nature. It seems like Ada will be working on her farm for the rest of her life, so she’s heavily invested in the ongoing process of taking care of her land—and appreciating the natural world’s beauty. But clearly she doesn’t want to do this alone: she wants Inman by her side.