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Cold Mountain | Chapter 12 : Freewill Savages | Summary

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Summary

One morning, Ruby sees a man has been caught by the trap she and Ada set. She grabs the shotgun and goes to investigate. The man is her father, Stobrod. She notes he has aged and goads him for stealing corn "to run a batch of liquor." But she frees him and feeds him breakfast outside, learning that he lives in a cave with other outliers from the war, where "all they wished to do was hunt and eat and lay up all night drunk, making music."

After Ruby shoos her father along, she and Ada enjoy the warm fall day, checking on things around the farm and talking. They decide to eat their evening meal outside, and they prepare a delicious meal. Stobrod arrives back on the scene and eats with them, although Ruby ignores him as he makes small talk with Ada about the war. After dinner, he takes a fiddle out of a sack he carries and explains how he made it himself to include the likeness of a rattlesnake, down to the actual rattles of a snake he himself cut off of a huge rattler. He tells the story of how he has become a great fiddler as well. It happened during the war because of a father's request for someone to play fiddle music to his daughter who had been badly burned in order to make her passing easier. When Stobrod made up some music of his own on that occasion, he became obsessed with music.

Then Stobrod plays for the two women, and there is no denying the power of the music he produces. Ruby barely acknowledges his skill, but Ada thinks it is a miracle Stobrod has found "some path to redemption" through his amazing fiddle playing.

Analysis

Although Ruby has plenty of reasons to distrust and even dislike her father, she still acts toward him in a morally decent way. She knows he is hungry, and she feeds him. She stays in his presence, silently listening to him, rather than refusing to be around him. She is dismissive of his stories, but she is not cruel, just as she often scoffs at Ada's attempts to "get to know the running" of the farm and do the hard labor. Her disbelief, her way of pointing out one's shortcomings, is intended to keep people moving in the direction of positive growth.

Stobrod seems to want his daughter to believe in his growth as a person. His singular form of music, with its startling ability to move people's emotions, is the proof he decides to present to her. By telling the story of how he eased the final moments of a 15-year-old girl, perhaps he is also letting his daughter know he wishes he could have made her life easier. As Ada notices, the tune he plays makes it clear to listeners what he now has is worthwhile, "no matter what a waste one has made of one's life." Ruby is not convinced, but readers know her character well enough by now to understand that her kindness is there if people prove themselves worthy. Her father will have to give her "more than a tale and a fiddle tune."

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