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Free Study Guide - Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier

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CHAPTER 13 bride bed full of blood


Inman is wandering, lost, unable to glean any sense of direction because the sun, moon and stars have been concealed by storm clouds and fog for days. He has used the goat woman’s medicine and his wounds are well toward healing. His thoughts, however are still grave. He is out of food, living on creek water and wild cress. He cannot even bear to look upon his own image reflected in the water. He sees a hunched crow and wishes he could fly out of his situation.

He meets another man, briefly, who like Inman, does not take sides in the war. The man, Potts, explains that his son was killed at Sharpsburg. They exchange a few words about the battle at Sharpsburg. The man comments on Inman’s worn out condition and directs him down the road where he says there is a girl that will give him some food without asking any questions.

Inman finds the cabin and after stating that Potts sent him, the girl lets him come in out of the sleet and rain. The cabin is sparsely furnished, but clean. There is a baby in a cradle made of sticks. Inman feels uncomfortable about his own filthiness and smell in the tidy room.

The girl gives Inman a seat by the fire and feeds him beans and cornbread. Inman is unable to control his hunger and eats rudely, but then apologizes. The girl’s name is Sara. As they talk she tells Inman that her man was killed in the war and had never even seen his baby. She lives on her own eking out what living she can. Raiders have come and stolen her cow and burned down her barn. Then they killed her dog just to scare her. She has only a hog now to last the winter and fears slaughtering it by herself.

Inman feels the anguish of this young girl’s life and feels almost trapped by a responsibility to help her. He offers to kill the hog for her. In return, she has him wash and gives him clothes that were her man’s. In the stranger’s clothes, Inman feels like a ghost of this poor desperate girl’s past. He goes outside to sleep in the corncrib and the sky finally begins to clear. In the middle of the night Sara comes out and asks him to come inside.

Inside the cabin there is a fire, blazing and warm, near which the baby sleeps. Sara is in her own bed and asks if Inman could lay with her, but do nothing else. He obliges her stiffly and as the two lie together she cries. She tells him her life story and does not allow him to speak or try to console her. She ends her tale commenting on how good the hog will be.

In the morning she wakes Inman urgently. He runs out the back and hides in the woods. Three Federals ride up and stop Sara from releasing her hog into the woods to escape. One holds her at gunpoint while the others go into the house, trash it, and bring out the baby. They tie the girl to a post, unwrap the baby and leave it on the frozen ground. They sit waiting for her to tell them where her money is.

Meanwhile, Inman is sneaking back toward the house knowing that Sara, the baby and he will be killed, but hoping he can at least kill one of the Federals first. Just then, the Federals give up thinking that the girl has any money, untie her and hand her the baby. They gather up her chickens and tie a rope to the hog, riding off with all that she had.

Inman runs out and tells Sara to go inside, warm the baby, and then build an outdoor fire on which to boil a cauldron of water. Then he runs off after the Federals. He follows them a few miles to where they stop to camp. Inman hears the men speak of wanting to be home. He too wishes they were not all in their present situation.

It is fairly easy for Inman, at home in the mountains, to stalk these city boys. He is able to kill the Federal that goes off from the rest and approaches the tree where Inman is hiding. When the other two come to find the first, Inman comes from behind and shoots them. Inman is not pleased with what he has done, but reasons that compared to Fredericksburg or the Crater, this is near nothing. He hides the Federals bodies and their gear in a cave, dispatches the horses, reclaims Sara’s hog and chickens (two of them already cooked, and one that had been eating on the first dead raider), and returns to the cabin.

Sara had done as Inman said and has a huge cauldron of water boiling over a strong fire. The two eat the cooked chickens and spend the rest of the day killing, scalding and butchering the hog. They clean up, go inside and eat. They rest, and then eat again.

Sara offers Inman a razor and strop. Inman takes it outside to a rusted metal mirror and shaves. He had grown to dislike his own reflection as a result of the war and also, hot water had been hard to come by so he grew a beard. He had not shaved for two years. When he finishes shaving he sees his face as sinister. However, he knows that this is not the true Inman and believes he can eventually look better again.

He goes back inside and he and Sara sit by the fire. She rocks her sickly baby and forces herself to sing to it. Her voice sounds one hundred years old, carrying despair, resentment and panic. That night they lie in bed together again.

The next morning, Inman has breakfast, which includes an egg from the hen that had been eating on the dead raider, then leaves.


The crow that appears in this chapter is wet and looks ills. This can be compared to Inman who is again wishing he could fly off from his situation, perhaps from humanity all together. His solitude has become a threat to his spirit.

The girl, Sara, is the embodiment of endurance. There is little reason to hope that her situation will ever improve, yet she goes on.

The Federal raiders behave no better than the Home Guard. This gives us insight to the author’s viewpoint of the war. The killing and brutality was senseless, especially to the mountain people. This chapter punctuates the senseless loss - Potts’ loss of a son, Sara’s loss of her man, and Inman’s loss of himself. But it also gives a glimmer of hope. The melancholy, hopeless tone of the beginning of the chapter is lifted by the end. Inman brings some warmth and some needed help into Sara’s life. He even begins to believe that his own face “could in time be altered for the better.”

There is also some irony in this chapter. Sara sings Fair Margaret and Sweet William, a centuries old Scottish song popular in southern Appalachia. The song is about the death of a newlywed yet it soothes the baby to sleep and calms Sara and Inman. Second is the almost grotesque irony at the chapter’s end where Inman eats hog brains scrambled with the egg formed of nourishment the hen got from eating off a man Inman killed.


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