Summary of Chapter II
Niel finds Captain Forrester in his rose garden in a hickory chair watching a sun-dial made from red sandstone. The stone came from The Garden of the Gods from Cyrus Dalzell. Cyrus had sent the stone to replace the Captain’s homemade sun-dial. The Captain is much weaker and heavier, spending all day watching the sun-dial in his garden.
Niel goes to greet Mrs. Forrester in her hammock in the cottonwood trees. He catches her figure, hammock and all, in his arms. He feels how light she is and wants to rescue her. She tells him how handsome he is. She admits she does not know why the Captain watches the sun-dial every day: “How can anybody like to see time visibly devoured?” (p. 118). Niel sees that Marian is older, but that her age could disappear in a moment when she is lively.
They discuss the changing times, especially the role of women and their greater independence. She complains of tiredness, for she has to do all the housework now and take care of the Captain. Niel asks her if she misses the marsh, and she avoids the subject, saying that they need the money. She lectures him: “Money is a very important thing . . . face it” (p. 120).
The Captain asks Niel to mail some letters for him and picks up one from Mrs. Forrester for him to take as well. Niel is embarrassed because the letter is addressed to Frank Ellinger in Colorado. He tries to slip it into his pocket so the Captain won’t see it, but the Captain prevents him and makes a point of talking about Mrs. Forrester’s penmanship. Suddenly, Niel realizes the Captain knows everything, “all there was to know about Marian Forrester” (p. 123).
Commentary on Chapter II
The Captain sitting watching the sun-dial has an important symbolic function. He is waiting out his own life, but he has a larger than life feel as a sort of guardian of the land. The red rock comes from “The Garden of the Gods” in Colorado. The Captain watches time in a sort of timeless way, and though he seems fallen, heavy, slow, he doesn’t miss much. He perfectly understands what is going on around him, especially with his wife. He makes a point of showing Niel there is nothing to hide from him. The Captain maintains his integrity to the end, and like his sun-dial, remains a sort of monument to the pioneer ideals. Yet, as his wife says, he is watching time being visibly devoured, “watching the sunset glory on his roses” (p. 121). He doesn’t seem as disturbed as she is by change.
Marian discusses change with Niel and how women are more masculine now. He says it’s true, that women now think of themselves first. Does this make Marian a new woman? She seems to criticize women for smoking and going to college, yet she is not the completely submissive type. She looks older, but one forgets her age when she is practicing the old fashioned charming ways she excels in—an artless artifice, he thinks. She flatters Niel for being a grown up and handsome man. He sees that she is still “elegantly wild” and enjoys her as much as before. She seems to care for him a great deal and mentions how she has looked forward to his visit for weeks. He wants to rescue her, like he always does, from her wistful sadness. He is affected by her “sudden quietness of deep feeling” (p. 121).
The narrator doesn’t make much of this, but it seems Marian is flirting with Niel, especially the way she stays in his arms in the hammock. The line is a fine one, but she hasn’t crossed it yet the way she does later, suggesting they could be lovers in the eyes of gossips.
Finally, there is the foreshadowing of conflict when Niel mentions the loss of the marsh (to Ivy Peters), and she replies, “Money is a very important thing” (p. 120). She knows Niel hates Ivy, and she is hiding her growing dependence on him.