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Cold Mountain | Chapter 5 : Like Any Other Thing, a Gift | Summary

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Summary

Traveling on a particularly dark night and worrying about encountering the Home Guard, Inman comes upon a man whose despair seems to be deeper than his own. The man is blocking the road, crying out to God. Then Inman watches the man carry a woman to the edge of a cliff, obviously intent on throwing her into the abyss. Inman acts immediately to prevent it. The man says he is a preacher and impregnated the woman. Inman sees she is alive, and he demands the preacher put her back on the horse he has brought her on. Inman then forces the man to lead them to town. As they walk silently along, Inman recalls the night after the battle of Fredericksburg, when he and another soldier looked at the stars and waxed philosophical about human knowledge versus the mystery of the universe known only by God.

After a while, Inman finds out more about the situation. The preacher seems to feel little remorse about having an affair with the young woman, but he does not want to be found out by the members of his church, especially because he is to be married.

Inman decides he will put the young woman—still sleeping heavily from the medicine the preacher has dosed her with—in her bed, leaving the preacher bound to a tree and gagged. Then he writes what the preacher has told him and skewers the paper to the tree beside the preacher. Inman walks away, traveling through the night until he finds a safe place to sleep in the morning.

Inman rouses himself to begin walking again in the afternoon, but he feels especially tired. When he smells cooking, he follows the scent to find a band of gypsies. He enters the camp and is welcomed, given food and drink, and encouraged to join in the storytelling around the campfire. Inman is particularly taken with the beauty of one of the women who is a member of the traveling show portion of the caravan. As he falls asleep that night, it is with physical longing brought on by his proximity to the young woman he rescued and the beautiful gypsy woman, but his thoughts turn to Ada and he dreams about her that night. When he awakens the gypsies are gone, but his pleasant dream remains with him throughout the day.

Analysis

Inman's solid morality becomes very clear in this chapter. Despite the fact he is incredibly nervous about being caught and sent back to war, he gets involved when he encounters a despicable crime in the making. Rather than act quickly, he thinks carefully about the best way to handle the situation, revealing another strong character trait.

Inman's tenderness is often overshadowed by his tough demeanor, but it comes through when the girl, named Laura, awakens and he comforts her with a soft touch and good advice: "that preacher does not speak for God. No man does. Go back to sleep and wake up in the morning with me just a strong dream urging you to put him behind you. He means you no good. Set your mind on it."

The next morning, another fine character trait is evident as Inman thinks about the encounters on his journey thus far, "and how he might have done things differently in each case." Although he wishes to avoid conflict, he acknowledges he has gotten good at it and will fight for right whenever he must.

Being able to be with the gypsies is a comfort to Inman. Even though he often thinks of himself as a loner, it is clear community is important to him. He thinks about them in a nonjudgmental way, offers money for the food and wine he receives, and blends into the group easily. The final grace of the evening comes in the form of a dream in which he tells Ada, "I've been coming for you on a hard road. I'm never letting you go. Never." Once again, he has the strength he needs to keep going.

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