Set in the American Civil War, Charles Frazier’s Cold Mountain tells the moving story of the separation of Inman and his sweetheart, Ada. While Inman is away at war, Ada’s father has died, leaving her to fend for herself in a hostile world. A gentle, educated woman, Ada is now confronted with the traumatic situation of having to learn how to run a farm or die of hunger…
It was with a familiar delicious tingle of pleasure, a tightening in her breathing, that she realized she was now similarly hidden away, that anyone walking from the gate to the porch would never know she was there. If one of the ladies from the church made an obligatory visit to see about her welfare, she could sit motionless as they called her name and knocked at the door. She would not come out until long after she had heard the gate latch clack shut.
At that moment, though, the red hen came bursting through the leaves, her wings partially opened and trailing in the dust. She hopped onto a limb near Ada’s head and sounded off with an agitated gabble. Immediately behind her came the big black-and-gold rooster that always frightened Ada a little with his ferocity. He was intent on treading the hen but pulled up short, startled when he saw Ada in so unexpected a place. The rooster cocked his head at an angle and fixed a shining black eye on her. He took a step back and scratched at the ground. He was close enough for Ada to note the dirt lodged between the scales on his yellow legs. The amber spurs looked long as a finger. The golden helmet of feathers at his head and neck fluffed and swelled and, in their glossiness, seemed almost like silk. He shook himself to settle them back into place. The black of his body had a blue-green sheen like oil on water. His yellow beak opened and closed.
If he weighed a hundred and fifty pounds he’d kill me where I sit without a doubt, Ada thought.
She shifted about onto her knees and waved her hands and said, Shoo! When she did, the rooster launched himself at her face, twisting in the air so that he arrived spurs first, wings flogging away. Ada threw up a hand to fend him off and was cut across the wrist by a spur. Her blow knocked the bird to the ground, but he rose and came at her again, wings fanning. As she scrambled crablike to get out from under the bush, the rooster dug at her with a spur and hung it up in the folds of her skirt. She burst from the bush with a great thrash and rose to run, the rooster still attached to her skirt at knee level. The bird pecked at her calves and struck again and again with the spur of his free leg and beat at her with his wings. Ada hit at it with open-handed blows until it fell away, and then she ran to the porch and into the house.
She sank into an armchair and examined her wounds. There was a smear of blood at her wrist. She wiped it away and with relief saw that she was little more than scraped. She looked at her skirt and found it dusty and smeared with chicken droppings and rent in three places, and then she drew it up and looked to her legs. They were marked variously by scratches and nips, none of them deep enough to draw blood. Her face and neck stung from scratches taken when she scrabbled out of the bush. She patted at her hair and found it moiled all about her head. This is the place I have reached, she thought. I am living in a new world where these are the fruits of even looking for eggs.