Study Guide

Cold Mountain Chapter 8

By Charles Frazier

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Chapter 8

Source and Root

  • After all the work of harvesting hay, Ada totally wants to get out and have some fun.
  • The chapter opens with Ada and Ruby walking to town in the rain. The weather clears as they're going.
  • They see a number of migrating birds, which Ruby interprets as having a meaning.
  • Ada is gloomy that day, partly because of the work of making hay in the fields the week before (though they didn't get very much because it was so mixed with weeds).
  • In town, Ada and Ruby buy what they want and then spend some time with Mrs. McKennet, a well-off widow who was a friend of Ada's father. Mrs. McKennet is so happy to see Ada that she uses some precious supplies she has been hoarding to make ice cream for them.
  • Mrs. McKennet talks about the nobility of the war, and Ada disagrees with her, saying the fighting is degrading to both sides. Ada hopes to shock her a bit, possibly because Mrs. McKennet's life is so comfortable in spite of the war.
  • However, Mrs. McKennet just says that she has great affection for Ada, but that Ada is really naïve. Seems weird, since Mrs. McKennet is the one who buys the bogus story in the newspaper and Ada is the one who doubts it.
  • There's a bit of a silence after this (shocking, huh?), and Ruby tries to fill it by talking about birds and turnips. Then Mrs. McKennet asks Ruby's views on the war.
  • Ruby hesitates briefly, then says she's really not that interested in the war.
  • She does say that she's unimpressed with the North overall, since it seems to worship money. She is also doubtful of the newfangled holiday Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving may seem all down-home American to us now, and as wholesome as it gets: cranberry relish, mashed potatoes, and family fun. But Ruby has a point to make: she thinks there must be something wrong with a place that's only thankful one day a year.
  • And that's about that on the visit to Mrs. McKennet. But she did give our leading ladies ice cream, so props to her.
  • As they walk around town, Ruby and Ada hear a prisoner in the courthouse giving an impassioned speech. He says he volunteered for the war, fought hard, and was wounded; but when after all that he wanted to go home to his wife, he was jailed and might be hanged, just because he'd left the Confederate Army.
  • His story is really sad. The gist is that after he came home, his father tried to hide him and a few companions on the family farm. The Home Guard, led by that guy named Teague whom the Swangers don't like (reasonably), turns up looking for deserters.
  • They beat up the father and kill him. They also kill the guy's friends, then arrest him and put him in jail. And that's where he is now, telling the story. He may be hanged for deserting.
  • Ada and Ruby head home in the late afternoon. At first they are quiet, thinking about the grimness of the man's story, and then they discuss it. Ada hopes it is an exaggeration, but Ruby thinks it fits with men's nature and is probably true. Ada's kind of glass-half-full here, and Ruby's definitely on the glass-half-empty side.
  • Then they talk about whether the world is so bad one should be perpetually downhearted, or whether it's worth trying to be more hopeful.
  • On their walk back, Ruby sees a blue heron, a rare sight even up in the country where they live.
  • As they watch, the bird looks at Ada, as though it recognizes her dimly. Then it slowly takes off, and Ada waves goodbye to it as though it is family.
  • Ada wonders if it is some sort of sign, a blessing or a warning or something. Remember how birds are signs of things in the Odyssey?
  • Then Ada makes a quick sketch of the heron. She dates the sketch 9 October 1864, so we know exactly what the date is.
  • Ruby tells a strange family story about a heron.
  • Flashback time: Ada's parents could have starred in their own chick flick.
  • Ada tells the story. Monroe was forty-five and Ada's mother was thirty-six when they married, which is pretty late in life to get married in the world of the novel.
  • Ada didn't know their story until the winter before Monroe died.
  • It turns out that Monroe first met Ada's mother when she was sixteen and he was twenty-five. He thought she was the most beautiful thing he'd ever seen that first time they met.
  • Monroe had stopped to water his horse while riding through the country, thinking no one was at the house where he stopped.
  • Then he heard a voice from the porch, saying he might want to ask permission before using the trough. Monroe apologized, and the person who spoke came toward him. He had never seen a woman as beautiful, and he apologized again and left, flustered.
  • That night, he realized she was the woman he wanted to marry, and he began to court her the next day. Monroe began by finding out who the girl's father was and approaching him to declare his hope of marrying his daughter. This may seem pretty odd now—why not just ask the girl?—but it's an honorable way to approach marriage in the world of the book.
  • It turns out the girl is named Claire, and her father agrees to Monroe's courting her, on the condition that she doesn't get married until she is eighteen, in two more years. That seems reasonable to Monroe.
  • Claire's father, Deschutes, invites Monroe to dinner. Monroe can tell that Claire recognizes him, though she doesn't mention it. He believes his love is returned.
  • They court from spring to autumn. Monroe arranges a blue diamond ring as an engagement gift, and decides on a romantic surprise proposal in November. Get ready for that Instagram moment.
  • But when Monroe rides to the house, he looks through a lighted window and sees Claire passionately kissing another man. No way! He feels betrayed and crushed. He turns around and rides away.
  • After a wild ride into the woods, Monroe finds a burning church. He decides to go in and be burnt along with the church.
  • A drunken man finds Monroe and tells him to leave, and fortunately he does. They try to save the building from burning down completely. They're using the man's liquor bottle as their only device for carrying water. Surprise! They don't succeed.
  • Monroe goes back to Charleston and books passage to England a week afterward. He pokes around England looking at old churches and paintings. It's kind of what emo guys of the time did, but can you blame him?
  • When Monroe gets back to Charleston after a year, he discovers that Claire has married a business associate of her father's and gone to live in France with him.
  • Monroe leaves the family business and becomes a minister.
  • After a mere nineteen years (Odyssey alert: sounds kind of like the twenty years Odysseus is separated from Penelope), Monroe discovers that Claire has moved back to America, after what sounds like a pretty bad marriage. Her husband is dead.
  • Monroe, who is the persistent type when it comes to romance, goes to see Claire's father again and announces that he wants to try it again.
  • This time it works. They're married, and Monroe is crazy happy for two years. He's pretty sure Claire was happy, too.
  • But Claire dies in childbirth. Monroe is totally wiped out by his grief at first, but when he recovers he decides to throw his whole self into caring for Ada.
  • End of story. By the time Ada finishes telling it to Ruby, it's dark out. She points out the planet Venus. The perfect planet to see when you're telling a story about love.

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