Summary of Chapter IV
During a summer rain and flood when the swollen creeks cut off the Forrester place, Niel stops Ben Keezer who is riding over to them with the mail to see if he is taking the newspaper. He is alarmed because he sees an article on the marriage of Frank Ellinger and Constance Ogden, and he doesn’t know how Marian will take it. He tries to get to the house, but the bridge is washed out, so he goes back to the law office. He is reading; it is near midnight when Marian bursts in, and he catches her by the arm. She is in a raincoat and drenched. He does not know how she could get across the creek, but she is desperate and drunk. She insists on using the telephone.
He cautions her that the operator, Mrs. Beasley, will hear every word and report it. She ignores him and says she wants to call the Antlers in Colorado Springs. She tells him to say Judge Pommeroy’s office wants to speak to Frank Ellinger. Niel does not like to listen in, but he is afraid to leave her alone. Marian reproaches Frank for not telling her about the marriage. She keeps her voice affectionate and charming for a while. Frank tries to cut short the call, however, and Niel, anticipating a change in the conversation quickly cuts the phone cord as Marian begins to yell at Frank. She thinks Frank has hung up on her and begins sobbing, then passes out. Niel cuts off her wet clothing, dresses her in his robe and puts her to bed.
Niel goes to his uncle and explains what happened, asking him to go sit with Marian till she wakes up. Niel will go to the Captain whom she left alone. The next day Mrs. Beasley has spread the story all over town.
Commentary on Chapter IV
Niel is trying to rescue Marian again, trying to save her reputation by cutting the phone line before she reveals all to the operator, but Mrs. Beasley can guess enough to start the rumors. Niel knew the news about Frank would not be to her liking. It apparently was a shock. It is another reminder that she has been left behind for younger women.
Obviously, Frank is making an advantageous marriage for money, something Marian had feared years before when the Ogdens were visiting, and Constance had her cap set for Frank. Niel also tells the Captain a lie, that his wife had been sent for in the middle of the night to take a phone call. He tries to cover up the whole incident for the sake of the Forresters’ reputation.
Several times Niel thinks of Marian as an actress performing. He is amazed, for instance, by her command on the phone to Frank, how she sounds like a young woman at her ease at first, when only a moment before she was fiercely battling to keep it together, “holding on to consciousness by the strength of a single purpose” (p. 138). Once she switches to a tone betraying “quivering passion of hatred and wrong” (p. 142) he cuts the telephone cord. She has a great range of emotion and control when she needs it. Finally, however, Marian has snapped, as Niel feared. She has been building towards a crisis, and Frank’s marriage was the trigger.
Niel’s behavior is in all ways a contrast to the other men that Marian has been trusting. He is a gentleman with her, even when she is drunk. Another man might have taken advantage of her condition, but Niel does not even want to appear to do such a thing, so he asks the Judge to go to her as a chaperone.