Summary of Chapter V
The next day Niel dutifully comes to the house to be with Constance and sees Mrs. Forrester get in the sleigh with Frank Ellinger. Marian explains they are going down to the Sweet Water to cut cedar boughs for Christmas, and there isn’t enough room for everyone in the sleigh. Niel finds Constance playing solitaire and in a bad mood at being left behind. She suggests they get another sleigh and follow them, but Niel is firm that there are no more to be found.
In the sleigh, Marian gossips with Frank about how homely Mrs. Ogden is and how troublesome the Ogden women are. They laugh and chat familiarly, as he puts his arm through hers. They talk about how long it has been since they’ve seen each other. She mentions how hard it is to be in the country alone in the winter. They stop in a hidden thicket and unhitch the horses.
At dusk one of the Blum boys is hunting and sees the empty cutter. He waits to see who it is. He sees Frank carrying the buffalo robes and Mrs. Forrester on his arm. They embrace. Frank says they had better cut the cedar boughs, but Marian doesn’t care. She waits while he gets the boughs and then tells him to drive slowly. Adolph Blum watches all this, but the narrator tells us Mrs. Forrester’s secret is safe with him, for he looks upon her as privileged, and she has always been nice to him.
Commentary on Chapter V
Niel does not like Mrs. Forrester going off with Frank, but he, like the Blum boy, covers for her. He knows that Mrs. Forrester is counting on him to keep Constance away, so he makes an excuse why they can’t get another sleigh. This does not mean he knows what is going on at this stage.
Marian has a complex character and is able to command loyalty and love, even while she seems to have a darker side to her character. None of the men who admire her want to believe anything bad of her. The key to her disloyalty with Frank is hinted at when she tells him she cannot stand being alone in the winter in the country. A beautiful young and social woman, she feels trapped at Sweet Water with the Captain, old enough to be her father. There is the sense that she loves and respects her husband, but that he cannot fulfill all her needs. He is older, walking with a cane, not up to a party life. With this peek into the secret life of Marian Forrester, one wonders why she married an older man. There is the suggestion that he gives her a certain kind of security and protection, but apparently, it is not enough, or at least, it is no longer enough. The other question that Niel will bring up when he finds out is, how can she stoop to someone so beneath her? The Captain is worthy of her love; Frank is not.
The reaction of Adolph Blum is significant. He still respects Mrs. Forrester, for all her sordid affair, because she treats him as a human being. She not only buys game from him; she does not give away his secret that he hunts out of season. His interactions with her “were among the pleasantest things he had to remember” (pp. 72-3). She has a gracious kindness and generosity on the one hand, and a certain female pettiness on the other, as when she tries to undermine the Ogden women, afraid Frank will be attracted to Constance. It will be hard for Niel, the young idealist, to accept the imperfection in her.
The two scenes between Frank and Marian are the only ones where we see for ourselves their relationship without the intervening awareness of Niel. The narrator eavesdrops directly here, while most other impressions of Marian Forrester are filtered through Niel’s memory or his direct contact with her. It creates dramatic irony and suspense for the reader to know something the other characters do not.