Summary of Chapter VII
When Niel was not at the Forresters’ he was reading in his room, but not law, as he was supposed to. He has discovered the Judge’s set of Bohn classics, and his uncle advises him to read, for these are the books of a gentleman. He reads Lord Byron, Tom Jones, Wilhelm Meister, Montaigne, and Ovid. He prefers literature to philosophy because he wants to know what men have felt and lived. These books are “living creatures” to him (p. 87). He decides he wants to be an architect, not a lawyer.
In the spring the Forrester place is lovely. The captain’s roses are blooming, but a telegram reaches him that his bank has failed. The Captain and the Judge, his lawyer, go to Denver to deal with it, and Niel is aware the Captain is going to lose a lot. Mrs. Forrester seems unaware of the seriousness. Niel worries about poverty for Marian. He is irritated, however, to find Frank Ellinger registered at the hotel and realizes he must be dining with Mrs. Forrester. Niel thinks it is bad taste for him to come when the Captain is gone. He decides not to call on her that evening.
The next morning, however, he walks the Forrester land in the early light. There is “a religious purity” in the air (p. 90), and he takes his knife and cuts wild roses for Mrs. Forrester. He decides to leave them near the French windows of her bedroom, so she will see them as soon as she wakes up. When he goes close to the windows, he hears her laugh, then a man’s voice. He runs off and throws the bouquet into a mudhole. “In that instant, between stooping to the window-sill and rising, he had lost one of the most beautiful things in his life” (p. 92). It is not moral outrage he feels, but that Marian has destroyed his “aesthetic ideal” (p. 92).
Commentary on Chapter VII
This is Niel’s rude awakening to adulthood, a disillusionment about his model woman, Marian. Now, he knows it is not a flirtation with Frank, it is a common affair with a man unworthy of her, and that makes her a common person. He wonders if beautiful women are always “fed by something coarse and concealed”(p. 92) He had been feeding on the poetry and romance in books, and she represented those intangibles in his world.
His dashed hopes are compared to the trampled roses: “This day saw the end of that admiration and loyalty that had been like a bloom on his existence” (p. 92). She had lifted his life out of the ordinary, but like the roses “in the defencelessness of utter beauty,”(p. 91) that life is destroyed. He is bitter that she seemed to be aware of her own power, the great and delicate secret of life she holds for him, and yet she ruins it by giving it away to someone who doesn’t appreciate it. The pain is for himself, even more than for the Captain. As he walks on the land in the morning, he has “an impulse of affection and guardianship” (p. 89). In a sense, this is his land, and his people because he loves and understands them, and Frank Ellinger is a clumsy intruder. This betrayal has greater and greater significance for him; the incident is an earthquake with many aftershocks.