Summary of Chapter III
In the next few years Niel did not see much of Mrs. Forrester, who was only in Sweet Water in the summers. The Forresters spent the winters in Denver and Colorado Springs. He knows Mrs. Forrester likes him, for she always invites him with his uncle to dinners and picnics. Sometimes he sees the Captain driving visitors to the house. Black Tom, Judge Pommeroy’s servant, waits on table for dinner parties.
Then the Captain falls from his horse and is unable to pursue his career on the railroads. When he comes back to Sweet Water, he is walking with a cane, is heavier and older. Each year the Forresters travel less and absence from the house is shorter. Sweet Water too is not doing well with crop failures. George Adams and his family went back to Massachusetts. Others follow. There are not so many visitors to the Forrester house. Niel Herbert’s father has to move to Denver for an office job, leaving Niel to read law with his uncle. Niel does not like the law, but he likes his uncle and fits up a bachelor room for himself in his uncle’s office suite. The Judge is proud of his handsome and intelligent nephew.
One day before Christmas, Mrs. Forrester visits the Judge’s law office. Niel hears her musical laugh. She is dressed in a sealskin coat and is “bewitching” (p. 37). She invites the Judge and Niel to dinner and asks for Black Tom. She asks Niel to drive her home. He drives her cutter to the house, and she asks for his help with their guests, the Ogdens. The daughter, Constance, is a nineteen year old college girl, and Mrs. Forrester says she needs his help entertaining her. Mrs. Forrester takes Niel into the sitting room where a fire is burning and gives him a glass of sherry.
He is happy in the house and says how nice it is they are staying for Christmas. She mentions they are too poor to travel and has more sherry. She asks him to come with his uncle often during the winter to play whist with them. Niel enjoys looking at her beauty and elegance, her long pendant earrings that belonged to Mr. Forrester’s mother. She speaks in a worried tone about Mr. Forrester and says that once he fell after drinking with friends, so she hopes Niel will look out for him. Niel is excited about the winter, for he has never seen a woman so accomplished as Mrs. Forrester. Every other woman is dull compared to her. He remembers the first time he saw her as a boy, and now grown up, he will be included in the company at the Forrester house.
Commentary on Chapter III
Niel has grown up to be handsome, intelligent, and reserved in an aristocratic sort of way, due to his critical habit of mind. He does not yet have his own path in life, but he is looking for models. He is fond of his uncle, the Judge, and moves into his offices, making it into a home-like atmosphere that people enjoy. From this, it is apparent he has taste and likes beautiful and refined things. He also is naturally drawn to superior people. The Forresters are such in his mind. It seems at first he is most taken with the wife for her beauty and elegance. Later, however, he is even more taken with the Captain. Although he will go to college, these people constitute a very important part of his education.
Mrs. Forrester is equally drawn to Niel. They are kindred spirits. She knows he understands her and appreciates her. They do not carry on a flirtation, but obviously, she likes to be admired by a young man. Most importantly, Niel is steady and trustworthy and becomes a friend to the couple. He can measure their worth in a time when their fortunes are changing and they no longer entertain important people. The narrator introduces the fact that Sweet Water is now a backwater with people leaving “disillusioned about the West” (p. 34). The Forresters are also being left behind, due to the Captain’s disability and aging. This is bound to be hard on Mrs. Forrester, for “one knew that she was bewitching. It was instantaneous, and it pierced the thickest hide” (p. 37).
Nevertheless, we get two slight hints that she has defects as well. She asks Niel to entertain the young Constance Ogden. She describes the girl’s beauty in a catty sort of way, as though she is a rival. It is also apparent she drinks a little more sherry than she should, making excuses about having a weak chest and throat.
Captain Forrester is introduced indirectly in this chapter by certain details. One is his love of giving jewels to his wife. He does this for many reasons. First, because it shows he values her, and secondly, it upholds tradition, as when he asks her to wear his mother’s garnet earrings. The second thing we learn is Mrs. Forrester’s concern for her husband. Although it will be clear in the next chapter that she is having an affair with one of the guests, Frank Ellinger, she has a genuine devotion for the Captain that comes out in this chapter and after he dies. She tells Niel to watch out for the Captain, because he fell down recently in Colorado, and “To me, it was as if one of the mountains had fallen down” (p. 43). This shows she understands and values her husband, who has the largeness of spirit and reliability of a mountain.