Cold Mountain | Study Guide

Charles Frazier

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Cold Mountain | Chapter 4 : Verbs, All of Them Tiring | Summary



Ruby wastes no time at all in sizing up the condition of the farm and deciding on the best course of action to bring it back to life so it can sustain the two women. Just listening to Ruby's plans makes Ada feel exhausted, but she willingly goes along, even with the decision to trade her piano for necessities. On the day Old Jones comes to take it away, she does not feel much remorse; rather, she recalls playing the piano at a Christmas party just before the war. The memory includes a sweet moment with Inman, and leads Ada to seek a bottle of champagne in the basement. Instead of wine, however, she finds something very valuable for trading: coffee beans.

As the days and weeks pass, Ruby and Ada fall into a comfortable routine, with Ruby in charge and Ada working by her side. Their moments of leisure are in the evenings, when Ada reads fine literature aloud until dark and then Ruby tells her life story. Ruby's story is as much about her father as it is about herself.

Ruby had a very rough childhood, characterized by abject poverty and neglect. She never knew her mother, and her father, Stobrod Thewes, was a "notorious local ne'er-do-well" and a drunk. Ruby had to fend for herself as soon as she could walk, and from toddlerhood was often left alone for days, even weeks, on end.

Ruby was surprised when Stobrod enlisted in the war. Since he left, she has not heard from him; a man of his regiment has said he is unaccounted for. Ruby does not miss him, but she is angry he took with him pretty much everything that would have made it easier for her to survive. She believes she is about 21 years old, and she is ready to stop being poor.


Ruby's presence at Black Cove is reassuring to Ada in many ways. Ruby relieves Ada's worries about money, believing that bartering is preferable, especially given the lack of value for scrip (scrip was the currency issued by the Confederacy after the start of the Civil War; however, it was not backed by anything but a promise, and as the war turned against the South, the money became increasingly worthless). Ruby also clearly knows how to farm and exactly what the two women will need—not just in the moment but to get them through the winter, and not at a subsistence level, which is no longer acceptable to her after a lifetime of poverty. Ada is also comforted by her growing friendship with Ruby and no longer feels lonely.

However, Ada has some trepidation about the amount of work required to get the farm in shape and keep it running. Fortunately, the rhythm of their lives affords her leisurely mornings and evenings, which she needs as much as food in order not just to survive but to thrive—a goal she shares with Ruby. Ultimately, her confidence in Ruby is absolute: "Ruby would not let her fail."

One episode in her life Ruby tells Ada about involves a night she spent outside at four years old, caught by briars. Horribly frightened, she was calmed by the voice of a spirit guardian that "comforted and protected her all through the night." The experience totally changed her, and she compares it to being born with a caul. The folklore around being born with a caul, or tissue covering the face, is that the baby will be lucky in life and will be protected from evil. Having this self-concept has surely helped Ruby build a life based on self-confidence, a trust in nature, and fearlessness—attributes seen over and over in her character throughout the novel. Ada will grow to admire these traits and develop them in herself.

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