Summary of Chapter VIII
Niel meets Captain Forrester and his uncle at the train as they return from Denver. In the parlor, as they are gathered, the Captain breaks the news to Mrs. Forrester that they are now poor. He says that she will only have the house and his pension when he dies. Judge Pommeroy then explains the Captain’s generous actions to save the money of the depositors by paying off the bank debts himself. He was not required to do this, and none of the other directors stuck out their necks, but the Captain knew that the depositors only put the money in the bank because of his name. They were laborers and common folk who trusted him and the bank. The other directors claimed the bank loss was not their responsibility, but Captain Forrester was president of the bank and a “man of honour” (p. 96).
The Captain goes to lie down and rest while the Judge explains the drama of the crowds in the street waiting to see what would happen. They were Mexicans, Swedes, and all were scared to death of losing their life savings. They chanted the Captain’s name, “Forrester, Forrester.” The Judge blames himself that he couldn’t save more for them out of the wreck and says maybe the new breed of lawyers like Ivy Peters would have. The Judge praises the Captain and says he is proud to know him.
The Captain has a stroke while taking his nap, and he is kept in bed for three weeks. Mrs. Forrester is kept busy attending to him and answering letters. One day, Cyrus Dalzell, the railroad magnate, comes to pay a visit. He brings cases of port and sherry for them. She feels happy for a moment when he says they must stay with them the next winter at the Springs, for they will be desolate without their “Lady Forrester.” She is grateful and melancholy.
Commentary on Chapter VIII
Marian’s worst fears have happened. They are poor, and her husband is ill and cannot travel. She knows that the invitation of the Dalzells will not be accepted , and that she is now a prisoner at the house.
The Judge portrays the Captain’s heroism and integrity as a vanishing ethic, for the new breed of businessmen on the board of directors want to give only fifty cents on the dollar to the depositors. Knowing that these working class people were saving to buy homes or send a boy to school, the Captain could not let them down. The Judge says that the other directors claimed the failure was due to a financial panic, not their mismanagement, and they watched as the Captain “strip[ped]himself down to pledging his life insurance” (p. 97). The Judge classes Ivy Peters in the same group as the bank directors, part of a new breed of cut-throat lawyers and businessmen who have no honor. He says he is glad that Niel does not want to be a lawyer.
And yet, there is the sense that Marian understands and appreciates her husband’s heroism. When the Captain tells his wife he could have gotten out of it and saved the money for her, he says that it would not be a compliment to her. He appeals to her, and says if she is satisfied with what he has done, he won’t regret it. She says she does not question him, and later, in a wordless exchange between her and Niel that no one else sees, she tries to make him see that she does understand her husband and honor him. When the Judge says he is proud of the Captain, she flushes and gets tears in her eyes and affirms that he did the right thing. She says he would not have been able to hold up his head otherwise, and here she looks at Niel to rebuke him for not seeing that she does love her husband.
It is obvious from this exchange that Mrs. Forrester is aware that Niel knows about her affair with Frank. With a gesture she lets him know that she is not ignorant of her husband’s nobility. The subtlety of this exchange between them suggests a lot about both characters. It could seem that her flush is from a sense of guilt. But from the way she looks at Niel, she is trying to tell him that he is wrong about her. This exchange demonstrates that Marian is deeper and more complex than she appears to the young Niel. It indicates that she does value the virtue of her husband, even though it will make her suffer. Finally, it shows that Niel and Marian share a certain depth of connection that is rare. This is why Niel has been so devastated by her disloyalty. He has never, nor will he ever, meet another woman of such subtle feeling with whom he can communicate on that level. Yet, he is confronted with her human frailty and contradictions as well.