It sounded easy enough, but it wasn’t. Rosalie couldn’t grasp the fact that diet in Perry’s case was important. For the first time I saw a queer sort of obstinacy in her.
“Oh, my poor Peer!” And she laughed lightly. “Do they want to make a stuffed pig of you?”
Well, you simply couldn’t get it into her head that Perry needed the bread that she sold for hyacinths. She cooked steaks and chops for him, and served them with an air of protest that took away his appetite.
Of course there remained the eggs and milk, but he didn’t like them. What Perry really needed was three good meals a day according to the tradition of his mother’s home.
But he couldn’t have them. His mother was dead, and the home broken up. The little bungalow, with its old brocades, its Venetian glass, its Florentine carvings, its sun-dial and its garden, was the best that life could offer him. And I must confess that he seemed to think it very good. He adored Rosalie. When in moments of rebellion against her seeming indifference I hinted that she lacked housewifely qualities he smiled and shifted the subject abruptly.
Once he said, “She feeds—my soul.”
Of course she loved him. But love to her meant what it had meant in those first days on the Maine coast when she had seen him, slender and strong, his brown hair blowing back from his sun-tanned skin; it meant those first days in their new home when, handsome and debonair in the velvet coat which she had made him wear, he had added a high light to the picture she had made of her home.
This new Perry, pale and coughing—shivering in the warmth of the fire—did not fit into the picture. Her dreams of the future had not included a tired man who worked for his living, and who was dying for lack of intelligent care.
To put it into cold words makes it sound ghoulish. But of course Rosalie was not really that. She was merely absorbed in her own exalted theories and she was not maternal. I think when I compared her, unthinking, to the young moon, that I was subconsciously aware of her likeness to the “orbed maiden” whose white fire warms no one.
She tried to do her best, and I am quite sure that Perry never knew the truth—that he might have been saved if she could have left her heights for a moment and had become womanly and wifely. If she had mothered him a bit—poured out her tenderness upon him—oh, my poor Perry. He loved her too much to ask it, but I knew what it would have meant to him.
All through his last illness Rosalie clung to me. I think it grew to be a horror to her to see him, gaunt and exhausted, in the west room. He had a good nurse, toward the last, and good food. I had had a small fortune left to me, too late, by a distant relative. I paid for the cook and the nurse, and I sent flowers to Rosalie that she might take them to Perry and let his hungry eyes feed upon her.
It was in the winter that he died, and after all was over Rosalie and I went out and stood together on the little porch. There was snow on the ground and the bright stars seemed caught in the branches of the pines.