Summary of Chapter IX
The Judge is better, and Niel plans to go back to school at the end of summer, but he is melancholy about saying good by to Sweet Water forever. It’s the end of his youth, and the end of the pioneer era, the sunset of which he had only glimpsed. He resents Mrs. Forrester for outliving it and cheapening his memory of the past. He leaves without bidding her good by, because he sees Ivy embracing her in the kitchen of her house.
He goes rapidly down the hill “for the last time” (p. 179), and he never did go up the hill again. He had given Marian a year of his life, and she threw away his sacrifice. Only the Captain is left in his regard now. It was the Captain who had made the house special.
He hears of her now and then from his uncle, who says she is with Ivy Peters but not happy: “She is sadly broken” (p. 180). Ivy Peters buys the house and brings a wife there, and Mrs. Forrester goes West.
After years of feeling bitter, his memory changes, and he is once more glad he knew her, and that she had influenced him. He hears of her only one more time from Ed Elliott in a Chicago hotel. Ed gives Niel a final message from Mrs. Forrester whom he had met twelve years after she left Sweet Water, in Buenos Ayres. She tells Ed to give her love to Niel and to say she thinks of him often and wants him to know she ended well. She had married a rich Englishman, Henry Collins. Niel says he would like to see her again, but Ed says she is now dead. Niel says, thank god it ended well for her, and Ed says he feels the same. “It was remarkable, how she’d come up again” (p. 183).
Commentary on Chapter IX
Niel has to let his youth go and his romantic picture of the pioneer era at the same time: “It was already gone, that age; nothing could ever bring it back. The taste and smell and song of it, the visions those men had seen in the air and followed” (p. 178). He struggles with his resentment that Mrs. Forrester couldn’t have immolated herself on the funeral pyre of the old ways to save his memory.
Instead, she moves on to lesser days in the arms of Ivy Peters. This for Niel is the last straw. Ivy represents all that is repulsive in human behavior, and her acceptance of him is prostitution in his eyes. She, like the country, has embraced a materialistic ethic and seems devoid of discrimination or scruples. Niel feels now that she was only great because of the Captain, one of the true gentlemen of pioneer vision. She needs someone like him as a rudder or she is “lost,” just as the country needs its great men as leaders, or it is lost.
Niel is mad at himself because it took “two doses” to wake up—her affair with Frank, and then with Ivy. He gave the Forresters a year of his life, hoping to save them, to give back to them. He did help the Captain have a peaceful death, but he could not be the one to rescue Marian as he hoped. After seeing Ivy and Marian together, he is disillusioned for the last time. He does not say good by.
Her last message to Niel does not seem an idle courtesy but one of her own lucid memories of the people she has valued. She always has flowers put on the Captain’s grave, and she sends her love to Niel. She knew her true supporters in her heart. She wants Niel to know she ended well, with a good husband and position, that she ended in her element as a lady. Both Niel and Ed are relieved. This is because she has touched their imaginations. It hurts them when she falls and is common. They want to remember her as the grand lady. The fact that she “comes up again” shows she is the indomitable lady they have always loved in their hearts.