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The Project Gutenberg EBook of The Fruit of the Tree, by Edith Wharton

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Title: The Fruit of the Tree

Author: Edith Wharton

Illustrator: Alonzo Kimball

Release Date: September 6, 2006 [EBook #19191]

Language: English

Character set encoding: UTF-8

*** START OF THIS PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK THE FRUIT OF THE TREE ***

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THE FRUIT OF THE TREE

[Illustration: He stood by her in silence, his eyes on the injured man.]

THE FRUIT OF THE TREE BY EDITH WHARTON

WITH ILLUSTRATIONS BY ALONZO KIMBALL

NEW YORK CHARLES SCRIBNER’S SONS MDCCCCVII

COPYRIGHT, 1907, BY CHARLES SCRIBNER’S SONS

[Illustration: mark]

ILLUSTRATIONS

He stood by her in silence, his eyes on the injured man Frontispiece “No—I shall have to ask you to take my word for it” Facing p. 82 Half-way up the slope they met 130

BOOK I

THE FRUIT OF THE TREE

I

IN the surgical ward of the Hope Hospital at Hanaford, a nurse was bending over a young man whose bandaged right hand and arm lay stretched along the bed.

His head stirred uneasily, and slipping her arm behind him she effected a professional readjustment of the pillows. “Is that better?”

As she leaned over, he lifted his anxious bewildered eyes, deep-sunk under ridges of suffering. “I don’t s’pose there’s any kind of a show for me, is there?” he asked, pointing with his free hand—the stained seamed hand of the mechanic—to the inert bundle on the quilt.

Her only immediate answer was to wipe the dampness from his forehead; then she said: “We’ll talk about that tomorrow.”

“Why not now?”

“Because Dr. Disbrow can’t tell till the inflammation goes down.”

“Will it go down by tomorrow?”

“It will begin to, if you don’t excite yourself and keep up the fever.”

“Excite myself? I—there’s four of ‘em at home–-“

“Well, then there are four reasons for keeping quiet,” she rejoined.

She did not use, in speaking, the soothing inflection of her trade: she seemed to disdain to cajole or trick the sufferer. Her full young voice kept its cool note of authority, her sympathy revealing itself only in the expert touch of her hands and the constant vigilance of her dark steady eyes. This vigilance softened to pity as the patient turned his head away with a groan. His free left hand continued to travel the sheet, clasping and unclasping itself in contortions of feverish unrest. It was as though all the anguish of his mutilation found expression in that lonely hand, left without work in the world now that its mate was useless.

The nurse felt a touch on her shoulder, and rose to face the matron, a sharp-featured woman with a soft intonation.

“This is Mr. Amherst, Miss Brent. The assistant manager from the mills. He wishes to see Dillon.”

John Amherst’s step was singularly noiseless. The nurse, sensitive by nature and training to all physical characteristics, was struck at once by the contrast between his alert face and figure and the silent way in which he moved. She noticed, too, that the same contrast was repeated in the face itself, its spare energetic outline, with the high nose and compressed lips of the mover of men, being curiously modified by the veiled inward gaze of the grey eyes he turned on her. It was one of the interests of Justine Brent’s crowded yet lonely life to attempt a rapid mental classification of the persons she met; but the contradictions in Amherst’s face baffled her, and she murmured inwardly “I don’t know” as she drew aside to let him approach the bed. He stood by her in silence, his hands clasped behind him, his eyes on the injured man, who lay motionless, as if sunk in a lethargy. The matron, at the call of another nurse, had minced away down the ward, committing Amherst with a glance to Miss Brent; and the two remained alone by the bed.

After a pause, Amherst moved toward the window beyond the empty cot adjoining Dillon’s. One of the white screens used to isolate dying patients had been placed against this cot, which was the last at that end of the ward, and the space beyond formed a secluded corner, where a few words could be exchanged out of reach of the eyes in the other beds.

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