A few great critics wrote wonderfully about her, but a vast majority of them, trained only in witty disparagement and acute disintegrating perception, became empty and formal in face of an unaccustomed challenge to admiration and reverence.
It is only the generous who give to the rich, the big who praise the big; the niggardly salve their consciences in doles to the humbly poor, making life into a pilgrimage of greedy patrons in search of grateful victims.
June was radiantly removed from the possible inroads of charity. You couldn’t even pretend to have discovered her—unless, of course, you had met her—then you were quite sure that you had. Her friends explained—as friends always do—that it was what she was, not what she did, that mattered, that her letters and her conversation were far more wonderful than her books, that she was her own greatest masterpiece.
It was irritating to be forced out of it like that, but when you had seen her you began doing the same thing.
It was impossible not to want to tell people that her hair was like a crisp heap of rusty October beech leaves, that she always had time for you. And then you began to explain that she was happily married, which led you to the fact that she was happy, which reminded you that you were happy, by which time no one was listening to you. But it didn’t seem to matter. People would ask such silly questions about her. “Does she admire Dostoievski?” they would say, and you would answer, “She has the most enchanting brown squirrel——”
George wasn’t thinking any of those things. His mind didn’t work like that. He was eating a huge breakfast, with the “Times” propped up against his coffee pot. The two and a half columns about her new book annoyed him. He hated a woman to get herself talked about—June, too, of all people. There was nothing new-fangled about June. Why, his mother loved her and she was so pretty and so fond of clothes and babies. There was really no excuse for her sprawling over his paper when she ought to have been moving discreetly through the social column like his other female friends.
There was really no reason for a happy, cared-for woman to write. It wasn’t even as if she had to earn her own living. Richard ought to put his foot down, but Richard didn’t seem to mind. One might almost have thought that he was proud of his wife’s reputation, if one hadn’t known him to be such a manly man. After all, a woman’s place was in her home—or the Court Circular. She should never stray from birth, deaths and marriages to other parts of the paper. Even the sporting news (though he liked a woman to play a good game of golf or a good game of tennis) was hardly the place for a lady.
George knew that he was working himself up and he hated doing that at breakfast. So he started undoing the elaborate knot of a brown paper parcel to soothe his nerves—George never cut string. And out of it emerged her book—her new book. It was beautifully bound (she knew that he liked a book to look nice) and on the fly leaf was the inscription: “A leather cover, a little paper and my love.”