Summary of Chapter VII
It is now April, and Niel has stayed on to take care of the Judge’s business, for his uncle had been ill with rheumatic fever. Mr. Orville Ogden, Constance’s father, comes to the office, and says what a difference it has made with Daniel Forrester gone. He has stopped off between trains and wants to ask the Judge about getting an increase in Mrs. Forrester’s pension.
Niel informs him that Mrs. Forrester is no longer a client of the Judge’s. After the Captain died, she took her business to Ivy Peters. Mr. Ogden is shocked. Niel says she did not treat the Judge very nicely and explains Ivy is not trustworthy. Niel pieces together the impression that Mr. Ogden once cared very deeply for Marian and used to visit more than any other of their Denver friends, but that he had not been back since Frank Ellinger was there. Mr. Ogden suggests that Ivy may have a soft spot for Marian. Niel is so revolted at the idea that he tells him to go see Ivy for himself. Mr. Ogden leaves.
Later, it comes to Niel that Mr. Ogden had wanted to go see Marian in person between his trains. What stopped him? Perhaps he was afraid to see her now. Niel had done nothing to encourage him to go to her, and this makes him realize how much his own feelings for her have changed. But no, it is Marian herself who has changed since her husband’s death: “without him, she was like a ship without a ballast, driven hither and thither by every wind” (p. 161).
Ivy Peters is spending more time with Marian and is changing the property—has pulled down the barn. He spends evenings with her playing cards. Sometimes he takes his young men friends, and the town gossips that Marian is after young men now. Niel tells her about the gossip, but she dismisses it. She says she will go to California as soon as she sells the house, and Ivy is helping her. She likes entertaining the young men and teaching them about manners.
Niel however has not been back to see her since that talk. His uncle had not taken a penny from the Forresters for years, and yet she threw over that friendship with no warning.
Commentary on Chapter VII
Niel chronicles the changes to Marian Forrester since her husband’s death. She has removed her trust from the Judge and thinks Ivy Peters is her ticket to better times. Ivy promises to get her an exorbitant price for the house. It is rumored he is almost rich with oil wells, but so far, he is still a shyster preying on Mrs. Forrester. She does not care about the rumors of being a “Merry Widow.”
Niel comes to an interesting conclusion about her. All her friends used to think of the Captain as a drag on her life, but the truth is that he kept her intact. Now, she is being driven by any wind, without discrimination or wisdom. She has lost her power of “graciously keeping everyone in his proper place” (p. 161).
Niel speculates that perhaps Mr. Ogden did not go to see Marian for “fear of losing a pleasant memory, of finding her changed and marred” (p. 160). This is of course what has happened to Niel. Mr. Ogden hints that Ivy is romantically attached to Marian, but Niel thinks that so unlikely, he tells Ogden to go look at the man’s face. The relationship is unsavory and incomprehensible to him, but he doesn’t think it could go that far.
A disturbing indication that it could go that far has to do with how she speaks to Niel. She suggests that according to the town gossips, he too, could be a possible lover for her, and he is more handsome than Ivy. She has never spoken in this vulgar way to him before, and he says, “I wish you wouldn’t talk to me like that” (p. 162). He tells her to go back to California to her own kind. She has fallen from the immaculate lady he once knew. She is common and “lost.” She has lost her power, her charm, her integrity, for him.