Meanwhile Elizabeth Bremerton was sitting pensive on a hill-side about mid-way between Mannering and Chetworth. She had a bunch of autumn berries in her hands. Her tweed skirt and country boots showed traces of mud much deeper than anything on the high road; her dress was covered with bits of bramble, dead leaves, and thistledown; and her bright gold hair had been pulled here and there out of its neat coils, as though she had been pushing through hedges or groping through woods.
‘It’s perfectly monstrous!’ she was thinking. ’It oughtn’t to be allowed. And when we’re properly civilized, it won’t be allowed. No one ought to be free to ruin his land as he pleases! It concerns the State. “Manage your land decently—produce a proper amount of food—or out you go!” And I wouldn’t have waited for war to say it! Ugh! that place!’
And she thought with disgust of the choked and derelict fields, the ruined gates and fences, the deserted buildings she had just been wandering through. After the death of an old miser, who, according to the tale she had heard in a neighbouring village, had lived there for forty years, with a decrepit wife, both of them horribly neglected and dirty, and making latterly no attempt to work the farm, a new tenant had appeared who would have taken the place, if the Squire would have rebuilt the house and steadings, and allowed a reasonable sum for the cleansing and recovering of the land. But the Squire would do nothing of the kind. He ’hadn’t a farthing to spend on expensive repairs,’ and if the new tenant wouldn’t take the farm on the old terms, well, he might leave it alone.
The place had just been investigated by the County Committee, and a peremptory order had been issued. What was the Squire going to do?
Elizabeth fell to thinking what ought to be done with the Squire’s twelve thousand acres, if the Squire were a reasonable man. It was exasperating to her practical sense to see a piece of business in such a muddle. As a child and growing girl she had spent long summers in the country with a Dorsetshire uncle who farmed his own land, and there had sprung up in her an instinctive sympathy with the rich old earth and its kindly powers, with the animals and the crops, with the labourers and their rural arts, with all the interwoven country life, and its deep rooting in the soil of history and poetry.
Country life is, above all, steeped in common sense—the old, ancestral, simple wisdom of primitive men. And Elizabeth, in spite of her classical degree, and her passion for Greek pots, believed herself to be, before everything, a person of common sense. She had always managed her own family’s affairs. She had also been the paid secretary of an important learned society in her twenties not long after she left college, and knew well that she had been a conspicuous success. She had a great love, indeed, for any sort of organizing, large and small, for putting things straight, and running them. She was burning to put Mannering straight—and run it. She knew she could. Organizing means not doing things yourself, but finding the right people to do them. And she had always been good at finding the right people—putting the round pegs into the round holes.