When Justine Brent, a nurse who is visiting Mrs. Harry Dressel at Hanaford, volunteers to care for Dillon, an operator who was injured at Westmore Mills, she is approached by John Amherst, the assistant manager of the mills. Amherst deplores the miserable living and working conditions of the mill workers and, since Dillon’s accident was a result of these conditions, he wants to use his case to show the need for improvement to Bessy Westmore, the newly widowed owner of the mills who is due to make an inspection tour the following day.
The next day, Amherst conducts Bessy through the mills. Touched by Dillon’s case, Bessy decides to stay at Hanaford for a while. She recalls that she and Justine attended school together before Justine’s parents lost their wealth.
Bessy and Amherst make plans to improve the living conditions of the workers, and this association finally leads to their marriage. Amherst, hoping to make Westmore Mills a model of humanitarianism, is disillusioned to learn that Bessy is not willing to sacrifice the time or the money to accomplish this end.
Some time later, Justine comes to Lynbrook, the Amherst country house, to be a companion to Bessy, who is not feeling well. Amherst, meanwhile, spends most of his time at the mills in Hanaford. Bessy, to compensate for Amherst’s long absences, begins to entertain lavishly, at the same time confiding her bitterness and loneliness to Justine. Later, Amherst decides to manage a friend’s cotton mill in the South.
Justine writes to Amherst saying that Bessy needs him. Amherst replies that he will not return and, in a postscript, asks her not to permit Bessy to ride a particularly spirited horse they own. Bessy, learning of his request, later takes the horse out into the frost-covered countryside. There Bessy suffers an accident that seriously injures her spinal cord. She is taken home and looked after by Dr. Wyant, a local doctor whose proposal Justine refused some time before. A surgeon and various other consultants are also summoned. Bessy remains paralyzed after an operation; Justine knows that Bessy will never recover. By this time, Amherst is on a business trip into a remote part of South America, and Bessy’s father is in Europe.
One day, while Justine is caring for her, Bessy regains enough consciousness from her opiated state to plead with Justine to relieve her pain. Justine, convinced...
(The entire section is 990 words.)