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Cold Mountain | Chapter 15 : A Vow to Bear | Summary

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Summary

Inman stops his travels for another errand of mercy. He comes upon a woman whose daughter has just died. He makes a coffin and buries the girl. He and the woman share a meal so good it brings tears to Inman's eyes. The woman shows him a picture of her once large family, saying, "I'm the one survivor now."

The next few days are rainy, and Inman can hardly find a dry patch on which to sleep. On a particularly rough night, he reads a passage from his travelogue and focuses on the beautiful area around Cold Mountain. The next day, the weather breaks, and the walking is easier. But when he stops to fill his canteen with fresh water from a spring, he sees three skeletons hanging.

Soon Inman begins climbing; he has reached the mountains and begins to recognize his surroundings. One gloomy morning he awakens to find a mother bear with a tiny cub very close to him. She smells him and threatens him in order to protect the cub. When she charges him she cannot see he is at the edge of a cliff, and she plunges to her death. Knowing the cub will not survive, Inman kills it and eats it.

As the gloom and fog clear away, Inman's mood lifts as well. He knows exactly where he is and can see Cold Mountain and all the familiar ridges and waterways. As he eats the bear, he names it "regret."

Analysis

This chapter is filled with details of Inman's quiet kindness. He doesn't just build a coffin for the girl; he takes time to layer pine needles on the bottom and to line the casket with a quilt. He gives the woman the opportunity to kiss her daughter, and he asks if she wants to say a blessing. He is so grateful for the delicious meal she makes him that he feels it needs to be blessed as well.

At the pool, Inman honors the hanging skeletons by thinking about the lives that have been taken. He honors the bear by trying to tell her in a respectful voice he means no harm: "I've no aim to trouble you. I'll walk on from here and never be back. I'm just asking for clear passage." When she dies it hurts him to the core, because he thinks of bears as representing hope and she has died because of his presence: "Even my best intentions come to naught, and hope itself is but an obstacle." Charles Frazier himself feels the need to have readers view Inman as blameless in this touching situation. In a rare instance of author commentary, as Inman is about to shoot the cub, he says, "what Inman did ... was all he could do."

Still, Inman's hope returns as he looks at the landscape and names all the places that are part of his home. He believes "he might not always feel cored out" and has the idea he might vanish back into his homeland, "hid and safe from the wolfish gaze of the world at large."

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