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Ada and Inman wake up to their third day in the village. They decide that the war cannot go on for much longer and that it will be over by late summer. Inman rejects the option of returning to the army, and Ada vetoes the idea that he should hide as an outlier at Black Cove because of the danger involved. They settle on their third option, that Inman should walk north and surrender to the Federal army. The two promise to stay faithful to their vision of the future. Meanwhile, by the fourth day, Stobrod can sit up by himself. His wounds look almost healed, and he starts eating solid food. Ada watches as the other three devour cooked squirrels. She does not eat because she is put off by the fact that the squirrels still have teeth.
The snow starts melting on the morning of the fourth day when Ada and Ruby leave for Black Cove. Inman decides to follow later with Stobrod; the men do not want to jeopardize the women’s safety on their journey. Inman resolves that he will hide out one night in the woods before heading north. The women leave, and Inman watches some of the “richness of the world” disappear along with Ada. He loads Stobrod onto Ada’s horse, and the men follow. When they pass Pangle’s grave, Stobrod remembers of his friend.
Continuing along the trail, the men hear noises behind them. They turn to see Teague, a boy, and some other men. Inman realizes there is no point reasoning with these men. He hits Ada’s horse to send Stobrod “bucking off” into the woods and out of danger. Inman then shoots a wolfhound and one guard. The other men rein in their scared horses. Recognizing that there is nowhere that he can take cover, Inman shoots another man off his horse. One guard is crushed by his horse; meanwhile, the boy rides off into the woods. Teague threatens Inman with his knife before Inman shoots him in the chest. Inman hits the downed man with the butt of Teague’s rifle. He finds the final rider—the boy—nearby in the woods, hiding on his horse behind a tree. The boy, Birch, admits that he will come looking for Inman if they both live. Birch’s horse bolts, and he falls to the ground. As Inman tells Birch to put his pistol down, Birch shoots Inman.
Ada hears the shots and sees Stobrod. She rushes back to find Inman sprawled on the ground and holds him in her lap. Inman sees a vision of crows and all the seasons blended into one. The narrator describes this scene as if watching from a ridge, explaining how content the lovers look from afar.
Ada thinks about Ruby’s happy marriage to the Georgia boy, Reid. She watches her friends’ children play in the yard. Ada thinks on the seasons—how she tries to like winter but in fact loves autumn best. Ruby comes out of the kitchen with a nine-year-old girl. The large family sits down to eat with Stobrod, who has just finished milking the cow.
Later that evening, everyone gathers around the fire. Stobrod plays his fiddle while the children play and run around. The girl is scolded for waving a burning stick and responds by kissing Ada and calling her “Mama.” Ada reads the children the story of Baucis and Philemon, in which two lovers turn into trees. She has difficulty turning the page because she lost the tip of her index finger while cutting trees on the ridge to mark the place where the sun sets. Ada finishes her tale and puts the book away. She decides it is time to turn in for the night and latch the door.
As winter overshadows “spirits of crows, dancing,” death seems to hang suspended over the landscape. The characters are surrounded by a wasteland blanketed in snow. However, warm hearts beat within these frozen surroundings. The icy cabins protect Stobrod and give Ada and Inman some time together. Inman finally seems satisfied, noting that Ada has “filled him full.” As in the rest of the novel, in this chapter, it is tempting to read every natural detail as prophetic. Inman notes the absence of a duck he had seen sitting in a lake, but he does not know whether the creature drowned or flew away. Thus, what the duck symbolizes is uncertain. Frazier may be suggesting that there is no way of knowing what will survive and what will perish, since there is no certainty in the world.
This lack of certainty is symbolized most powerfully by Inman’s death. Inman is liberated from his anguished life just as he starts to believe in a better future. His death is neither heroic nor gallant, although it is preceded by a thrilling gunfight. Inman is simply shot by Birch, a boy with “empty” eyes and a quick hand. After all the danger and violence that Inman has encountered, it is pathetic that he should be killed so swiftly and unexpectedly. However, there is a measure of peace to his death. As sensory perception fails him, Inman’s vision suggests a crossing over to a world of pure spirit. His vision of crows echoes his vision after being shot by the Home Guard in “to live like a gamecock.” This bird has been associated with Inman from the novel’s very first chapter, “the shadow of a crow”; it seems to capture both the sadness and independence of his spirit. Ada holds her lover as he dies. This moment is the only time in the novel when the narrator withdraws from the action, observing the scene as if from afar. The lovers are allowed one moment alone together.
The epilogue underscores the novel’s motif of rotation or the circular passage of time. Ada is shown to draw some comfort from the certainty of seasonal changes that, unlike events in life (and the novel), have neither “inauguration nor epilogue.” In spite of great suffering, she seems to have found a measure of peace living with her daughter and Ruby’s family at Black Cove. The action of pulling in the “latch-string” suggests a sense of reassurance Ada has gained from a regular routine. Frazier thus ends his novel on a note of equilibrium. The characters experience no more grief, suffering, or upheaval. They simply have followed the turning of the seasons and have embraced the changes that they have encountered.
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