The next chapter opens on an October afternoon as the Professor walks to his new house and admires the selection of autumn foliage displayed among the nicely-colored and arranged furniture of the drawing-room.
His wife and Louie are sitting in the room discussing whether Louie should give Rosamund a necklace of emeralds. He says he will keep them at the jeweler’s until her birthday, which he explains to the Professor is near the time of a lecture the Professor is due to give at the University of Chicago. He plans to take the entire family to Chicago to celebrate both the lecture and his wife’s birthday.
St. Peter expresses skepticism that anyone will enjoy his lecture, and immediately goes upstairs to change as he has been working in his garden at the old house. He also notices particularly that Lillian has made herself up nicely for Louie.
This realization sparks a reflection on his wife’s flirtation with her sons-in-law, which has been an ongoing and faintly amusing pattern of behavior, according to the Professor. She is anxious on behalf of both young men; their careers, their social standing in Hamilton, and their interests. She dresses nicely when they are expected and pushes their interests forward like she once pushed forward the Professor’s. She also forgives them lapses in manners.
When he comes down for dinner, the Professor suggests to Lillian that she prevent Louie from letting his name go forward for membership in a small club called the Arts and Letters. The Professor keeps his reason for this warning private; Scott, who is already a member of the club, will probably blackball Louie should he come up for membership.
The Professor observes, over the soup, that his wife’s face has become hard as she considers this new opposition to Louie and plots to advance Scott’s interests as well.
The beginning section of this chapter, in which the Professor admires the display of autumn flora collected for his drawing-room and the interplay between this foliage and the variously colored furniture of the room, establishes Cather’s beliefs vis-à-vis art and nature.
Nature, throughout the novel, is presented as a desirable presence in human existence, as a source of inspiration and renewal. But, as the Professor observes, it is via the artistic hand of man selecting various pieces of nature for his own enjoyment that nature reaches its full potential in terms of beauty.
Cather’s hierarchy is therefore undisturbed: art and the religion that is made of it reign supreme, history is second, nature is a close third, and at the bottom of the hierarchy are science, technology, and the hated materialism that characterizes modern society.
The introduction of a private club called the Arts and Letters to which the frustrated writer Scott belongs and the materialistic entrepreneur Louie does not in this chapter is a concrete example of Cather’s hitherto abstract philosophy. Art, history and religion are superior human achievements when compared to science, technology and a materialistic value system. The fact that Scott, the more intellectual of the Professor’s sons-in-law, belongs to the Arts and Letters and Louie, the more commercial, does not, is hardly a surprise.
In yet another example of inter-familial power plays, Scott plans to get a bit of his own back from the wealthy Louie by blackballing him for membership in this exclusive, and undoubtedly desirable, club. This is in spite of Louie’s personal qualities of generosity and kindness, and the fact that he acts to please everyone, especially his family members.