Summary: like any other thing, a gift
Inman follows the banks of Deep River at night. He sees a light ahead and worries that it is the Home Guard. Instead, he finds that it is a man who is about to throw a white bundle down the river gorge. The man thinks that Inman is a message from God. Inman pulls a gun on the man, who says that he is a preacher who has drugged his pregnant lover and was about to throw her into the gorge in order to kill her. Inman ties the man up and instructs him to lead them to his town. Inman cuts his thumb on the wire binding the horse’s lead rope.
On the way back, the preacher reveals details of his affair. He states that he is engaged to someone else and that he would be exiled from his community if his infidelity were discovered. Inman sees that Orion has risen and remembers identifying a star in this constellation the night of the battle at Fredericksburg. The boy he shared this information with was dismissive of worldly knowledge, arguing that it lead to the carnage displayed on the battlefield. Although Inman had disagreed with the boy at the time, he now considers whether the boy might have been correct.
Inman can’t decide what to with the preacher, and he tells him so. At the town, Inman gags his captive and ties him to a tree. Inman carries the woman to her bed in the cabin she shares with her grandmother. The girl wakes up, and Inman learns that her name is Laura. He tells her to go back to sleep and warns her against the preacher. Inman writes a letter detailing the preacher’s criminal intentions and “skewers” it to the tree above his head. He leaves the town and sleeps in a pine bower.
When he awakens, Inman cleans his pistol and thinks how easily fighting comes to him. He leaves in the afternoon and continues walking. After an hour, Inman meets two slaves and follows the scent of meat to a camp filled by people as “Ishmaelite as himself.” He eats stew, and watches a dark-haired woman ride a horse across the river. The woman reminds him of Ada. Inman shares frog legs with a band of gypsy boys and buys a bottle of Moet. He drinks some champagne and then goes in search of another meal from a man in charge of “show folk.” Inman watches the man throw knives at the dark-haired woman. Later, the troupe eats beefsteaks and shares stories.
Inman is distracted by the beautiful woman and goes into the woods to rest. He reads a passage from Bartram’s Travels about the rhododendron plant and drinks the last of the champagne. Inman’s thoughts drift to Laura and how it felt to carry her when he did. He then thinks about the Christmas party and the conversation he had with Ada as she sat on his knee. Inman examined her hand for signs of the future but had found no “tidings” on it.
Inman falls asleep and dreams about Ada dressed in white with a black shawl. He tells her he is coming home and is never letting her go. Inman awakens to find the camp gone but sets off with lifted spirits, having had a pleasant dream.