Back in the town of Black Cove, Ada and Ruby have reached an agreement: Ruby will teach Ada how to run a farm, and in return, Ada will pay her money and feed her. Ada and Ruby spend their first days together making a list of everything that they’ll need to do at the farm. They’ll need to plant seeds, harvest crops that have been in the ground for too long, and dozens of other tasks. Ruby also has plans to make the farm profitable: she and Ada will make hard cider, which is highly valuable and popular at the time. They go into town to buy cloth, needles, and other necessities. Ada notes that paper money has become so unpredictable that nobody seems to want it anymore.
It’s worth remembering what Esco told Ada that following the Civil War, everything has a price on it. We can see this in the strange, businesslike relationship between Ruby and Ada. In the absence of money, Ruby and Ada strike up an unorthodox “quid pro quo” (literally “something for something”) in which Ada gives Ruby food in exchange for Ruby’s training. One of the interesting things about this relationship is that neither party is really in control of the other: Ruby needs Ada’s resources just as badly as Ada needs Ruby’s help.
Ada surprises herself by selling her piano. As she prepares to part with it, she remembers receiving piano lessons from Tip Benson, a young man who tried and failed to seduce her—as soon as he was indiscrete, Ada informed her father. Ruby uses Ada’s piano to make good deals with neighbors—she’s using Ada’s “useless” possessions to purchase useful ones.
The dichotomy between useless and useful couldn’t be clearer in this section. Ada’s old life, symbolized by her piano (and all the emotional baggage that goes with it, including her sexual harassment), is disappearing. Ada must struggle to survive, but her struggle has a silver lining: she has a chance to reinvent herself as a stronger, more confident woman.
As Ada parts with her piano and other possessions, she can’t help but think about Monroe, and the Christmas party he gave four years ago—just before the war began. At this party, the men debated about the South’s right to secede and predicted that the South would easily defeat the North if it ever came to war. Some of the younger men, such as Mars, drank from flasks. There were also women of mixed race present, though nobody seemed to pay them much attention.
The party Ada remembers is heavily masculine in almost every way—there’s even a guest named Mars, after the Roman god of war (about as masculine as it gets). We can see the naiveté of the Southerners’ politics—they’re so confident in their own states’ military might that they can’t conceive of a situation in which the bigger, more powerful Union could defeat them.
At the Christmas party, Ada had a little too much to drink. Sally Swanger, also drunk, told Ada that she should marry Inman as soon as she could. Ada was embarrassed by this suggestion. But when she got up to leave the room, she found Inman sitting outside, wearing a black suit. Inman greeted Ada and pointed out that she looked flushed. Shyly, Ada sat in Inman’s lap for a while, while Inman smiled quietly. Afterwards, Ada got up and returned to the party.
Inman and Ada are undeniably attracted to one another, but they’re both so sexually inexperienced that they don’t know how to interact with each other. Thus, Ada’s display of attraction to Inman, while sincere and passionate, seems strangely childish—she rests in his lap because she has no idea what else to do.
As Ada remembers her experienced with Inman, she looks through the basement of her house, searching for coffee. She and Ruby drink the coffee and talk about Ada’s love of books—including Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens. Over the course of the next few days, they trade the extra coffee for bacon, potatoes, baking powder, chickens, salt, and beans—all necessities for life on a farm.
Frazier continues to allude to “two-plot” novels, such as Little Dorrit, signaling the narrative structure of his own novel. In the absence of currency, Ruby and Ada have to use their wit and quick-thinking to strike up useful deals and get the materials they need to survive.
Ada is struck by how busily she and Ruby have to work in order to survive on their farm. Ruby is a harsh coach and teacher—she makes Ada work in the fields, dirtying her clothes, even when Ada doesn’t want to. Ada learns that Ruby is the child of a “ne’er-do-well” farmer named Stobrod Thewes. Ruby grew up in squalor, and learned all sorts of tricks for taking care of herself. As a child, Ruby was always frightened of being eaten by a wild animal prowling around Cold Mountain. Cherokee women talked about evil spirits and monsters, and she was always afraid one of them would kill her. In spite of her fears, Ruby grew up quickly. She learned how to pull a plow and cook food, because her father couldn’t do either.
Ruby doesn't just provide Ada with the training she needs to survive on her own—she also gives Ada the pleasure of human contact. Ruby, we see, is a strikingly sympathetic character who’s had to take care of herself for most of her life. Because Ruby isn’t shy about her own past, she never seems like an intimidating figure—she humanizes herself in Ada’s eyes. Ruby and Ada are as different as it’s possible to be: where Ada adored her father, Ruby despises hers, and has no use for him whatsoever.
When Ruby was older, she began to wonder about her mother—the kind of woman who would marry a man like Stobrod. She never succeeded in learning anything about her mother, because Stobrod enlisted in the army before she could ask him. Ruby hasn’t heard anything from her father since he went off to fight, so she’s sure he was killed in battle. In her father’s absence, Ruby learned how to run a farm, and how to fight off enemies with her bare hands. She’s 21 years old at the moment, at least so she thinks—she was never totally sure.
Ruby and Ada have a lot in common, in spite of their differences—neither Ada nor Ruby seems to know much about their mother. Ruby also proves that she’s tough and self-sufficient—she can fight off adults with her bare hands, despite the fact that she’s a young woman. In a way, Ruby has been training for the aftermath of the Civil War for her entire life—she seems not to mind that the war has thrown the country into chaos, because she was born into this same kind of chaos.