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Cold Mountain | Chapter 18 : Footsteps in the Snow | Summary

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Summary

Inman arrives at the sight of the shooting, having tracked the women from Black Cove. He looks at every detail as he tries to figure out why there is only one grave and why the women have continued on across the mountain rather than return home. He builds a fire where Stobrod dragged himself and rests for a while, remembering how different his homecoming had been from what he had pictured all during his long journey.

The day before reaching Black Cove, Inman bathes and washes his clothes and makes himself as presentable as possible for what he dreams of as a happy reunion with Ada. When Inman arrives at Black Cove, however, no one is there except the boy from Georgia. The boy tells him a version of the story, casting himself as something of a hero, and gives directions to Inman. So, Inman sets off once again.

After a restless night on the ledge, Inman continues tracking the women through the snow. However, as new snow falls the tracks disappear, and Inman is filled with despair.

The scene then shifts to Ada and Ruby. Stobrod has a high fever the next morning, and the women quickly attend to him. As she goes to get water, Ada spies a flock of wild turkey, and Ruby encourages her to go and shoot one they can eat. Ada has never fired a gun, but she takes down a hen and a cock with a single shot.

Inman is not far away, hears the shot, and quickly moves toward it. He sees a hunter pointing a gun at him and is stunned to see that it is Ada. Ada does not recognize him, so he says, "I've been coming to you on a hard road and I'm not letting you go." Still she fails to recognize him, and so he turns to walk away from her. However, he turns back to her once more, and in that moment she finally knows who he is. "You come with me," she says. As he follows her to the Cherokee village, she talks steadily in a calm voice, narrating the scene in front of them. Inman follows, silent and nearly delirious from fatigue and hunger.

Analysis

As weak and ineffective as Ada appears in the previous chapter, in this chapter she has regained her equilibrium. She finds the strength to be helpful to everyone who needs her. Ruby can only tend to Stobrod if he is to survive; she needs Ada to take charge of all their other needs. Inman is similarly dependent. He admits to himself he is "falling apart at a bad time." Just before he hears the shot from Ada, he even thinks about lying down in the snow and dying. And when she doesn't know him, he says, "I believe I have made a mistake."

Ada sees she can be of most help to Ruby and Stobrod by killing a turkey and providing good nourishment. Similarly, when she finally recognizes Inman, she sees he needs "food, warmth, kindness." These moments of certitude turn her from moody and introspective to practical and purposeful. Inman's response to her sums up the great gifts she is providing. In his cloudy mind he knows what she says with her musings on their trek to the village: "Right this minute I know more than you do, and what I know is everything might well be fine." All the training Ada received from Ruby, all of her growing inner strength during the years of hardship and loneliness—it is all coming to bear on a critical point.

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